Fairtrade urges world leaders to empower farmers to fight back against climate change

http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/images/top/fairtrade_logo.gifOn the eve of the annual United Nations Climate talks, in Cancun, Mexico, the global community turns its attention once more to the problem of climate change and the on-going pursuit of a global deal.

But for millions of people across the world climate change is not something to think about just once a year. It is a daily reality, bringing ever greater uncertainty and vulnerability to lives already precariously close to the edge.

In Kerala, India, nut yields, and associated incomes, have dropped by 30% over the last few years. On the island of St Lucia in the Caribbean banana farmers have recently had almost their entire crop destroyed by tropical hurricanes, an increasingly frequent event. And in Uganda Fairtrade coffee producers have reported a 40% drop in production. And recent research work by the Natural Resources Institute suggests that all the major Fairtrade products are under increasing threat from climate change.

The clear message from the Fairtrade movement is that many of the major products where Fairtrade is working, and which we enjoy in the UK such as coffee, tea, fruit and chocolate are likely to become increasingly scarce and expensive as climate change kicks in.

But the Fairtrade experience can present solutions as well as challenges. Amongst the participants gathering around the Cancun meeting will be a small group of representatives from Fairtrade farmer networks in Africa, Asia and Latin America, who will bring a unique perspective to the debate. They will be taking part in a side conference to discuss how the direct experience of those affected by climate change can be better used in formulating Policy.

Their message is a simple one: provide small farmers with a fair return for their products, invest in them as individuals and as organized groups, genuinely act to empower them, and they will be able to help find their own solutions.

Dyborn Chibonga, head of NASFAM, (a farmers association in Malawi) who will be representing African Fairtrade producers in Cancun says: ‘Small scale farmers are already starting to feel the effects of climate change on their livelihood crops. We are here to share experiences as Fairtrade helps us reduce our own impact on the environment. Agriculture needs to be at the centre of climate change discussions’.

The Fairtrade movement is already working to increase support to farmers to adapt to climate change and there are many examples of where the organizational structures and the additional income from Fairtrade has enabled farmers to begin to adapt to climate change and to reduce their environmental impact.

Mathew Ng’enda, from the Fairtrade certified Iriaini Tea Company in Kenya says that ‘Our approach to dealing with climate change is based on the capacity and opportunities presented by the Fairtrade premium.’

A good result from the Cancun meetings can ensure that farmers receive more and appropriate support. Enough funding must be committed for adaptation to climate change, and this funding must be appropriate and available for small scale farmers in developing countries.

Noel Oettle, representing producers of Rooibos Tea in South Africa says: 'Fair trade producers don’t want charity: rather, they would like recognition for their achievements in producing sustainably, and would like to see that their efforts to adapt to climatic variability and economic uncertainty are adequately supported in the ways that they see fit. Each producer, and each producer organisation is unique, and a ‘one size fits all’ approach will not do.’

Despite the fact that small scale farmers are at the front line of the climate crisis they have, for too long, remained the forgotten and unheard voices in the climate discussions. It is time for this to change, for the future benefit of all of us.

Source: Fairtrade Foundation

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