Fair Trade

And what’s it got to do with the environment?

International Trade is not fair! Farmers producing crops like tea, coffee, chocolate and bananas very often have very little say about how much they can sell their crops for. As a result, many of these farmers are living on just £1 per day, that’s well below the international poverty line of £1.90/day. However, in order to provide a basic home, food, clean water, healthcare & education, things we all take for granted, an income of nearer £2.50 a day would be needed. Is it fair that these people just can’t earn enough from their crops to provide for their families? This also has knock on effects, because when these farmers are struggling to meet their own very basic needs, then considering their environmental impact becomes a very low priority.

A cocoa farmer harvests a yellow cocoa pod. It's the size of a honeydew melon.
Cocoa farmer harvesting cocoa pods. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

However, Fairtrade is recognised for improving the lives of farmers across the globe. The Fairtrade organisation guarantees a minimum price for the produce it buys and in addition, it pays a community premium. These measures help to lift individual farmers out of poverty and improve their communities. But the Fairtrade organisation also have standards that they expect and help their farmers to meet. These standards help reduce the environmental impact and carbon footprint of their products.

So, What’s the Carbon Footprint of Chocolate?

The carbon footprint of a serving of chocolate can as high as 6kg per serving. That’s higher than the carbon footprint of a portion of chicken, pork or fish or even higher than a low impact serving of beef! But Cocoa can also have a very low carbon footprint if it’s produced in an environmentally friendly way. [1]

Tree stump in an area of cleared forest.
Tree Stump in a formerly forested area.

A significant amount of the carbon footprint of higher impact chocolate is due to deforestation. About half of the habitable land on earth is taken up with agriculture already [2], so when farmers are looking for more land to farm (either to try to increase their yield or because land has become degraded), very often that means clearing another patch of forest. We know that deforestation is a significant contributor to climate change, and that we need to preserve as much forest as possible – I’m sure we wouldn’t like to think that eating our chocolate has resulted in forest being chopped down and burned with all the wildlife loss associated with it. Sadly, once deforested, the land will then usually degrade rapidly, releasing more carbon to the atmosphere.

So How can I prevent this?

The fairtrade logo. A silhouette of a person against a blue and green circle.
Look out for the Fairtrade mark on your purchases.

By buying products with the Fairtrade mark, we ensure that measures have been taken to avoid deforestation. The Fairtrade standard also ensures farmers minimise the use of pesticides (therefore minimising the loss of pollinators and other creatures that are so important to producing our crops,) and use energy efficiently so minimise the carbon footprint of the chocolate and other products.

A person picking coffee beans.
Picking coffee beans. Photo by Og Mpango on Pexels.com

Many communities also use their Fairtrade premium for reforestation projects. This also help to avoid soil erosion and locks up carbon in the trees and soil thus reducing the amount of CO2 in the air. (Did you know that soil is the biggest carbon store in world?!)

Cocoa & coffee production are also threatened by the changes to the climate that are already happening in these areas, but the Fairtrade organisation is helping to train farmers in how to adapt so they can continue to grow their crops.

Poverty

The minimum price guarantee, ensures that farmers can continue to afford to grow their crops (many are giving up as it’s not financially viable), but it also means they can provide a reasonable standard of living for their families.

The Fairtrade standard also ensures that workers do not face discrimination, no child labour is used and other basic employment rights are upheld that we would take for granted.

Is raising people out of poverty related to Climate Change?

Yes, it is! People often blame climate change on population growth. And it’s true that the more people we have on the earth, the more mouths there are to feed, but don’t forget the average carbon footprint for a person in one of these countries is tiny compared to our own in wealthier countries. Did you know, the average Briton emits in 6 days, more greenhouse gases than the average Malawian emits in a year? However:

Young children, one carrying a water container on his head.
Photo by Dazzle Jam on Pexels.com

In his book ‘A life on our planet’, David Attenborough quotes that by stimulating the economy to raise people out of poverty, Taiwan brought its population growth under control as quickly as China did by using its One child program. This is because, as people’s lives improve, they start to pursue careers and don’t feel the need to have large families to ensure survival, and birth rates drop rapidly.  David Attenborough quotes that “Raising people out of poverty, and empowering women is the fastest way to bring this period of population growth to an end” he goes on “and why wouldn’t we want to do these things? This is not just about the numbers of people on the planet. This is about committing to a fair and just future for all. Giving people a greater opportunity in life is surely what we would all want to do anyway. It’s a wonderful win-win solution and this is a repeating theme on the path to sustainability.”

A girl smiling with a young boy
Photo by hitesh choudhary on Pexels.com

Project drawdown also puts educating girls and empowering women as the 6th & 7th most effective means of reducing our global greenhouse gas emissions. This is nothing to do with forcing decisions on anyone but far more about empowering girls to make their own choices about the size of their family.

Fairtrade systems pay farmers more fairly so this makes it much more likely that they can afford to educate their children (both boys and girls). But, in addition, communities often use their Fairtrade premiums to build schools or fund education projects in their communities.

So, by buying Fairtrade & other ethically sourced products we can be helping to raise people out of poverty, educate the next generation of children in these countries and fight climate change! What’s not to like?

A stack of chocolate pieces
Next time you’re buying chocolate, could you find Fair Trade Chocolate? Photo by Elli on Pexels.com

This is where we come in. Fairtrade can only provide this support if we buy their products. Fairtrade have many certified farmers ready to supply their goods, but Fairtrade cannot buy all of it, unless we buy more of their products.

So the next time you’re looking for chocolate, coffee or bananas, look out for the Fairtrade mark. It may be a few extra pence for us, but it can make a huge difference to a farmer and their family in Malawi and other countries.

It’s also worth checking out the Fairtrade website, there are many more products available than those listed here, from clothes to flowers and even gold! They give helpful lists of where we can buy their products too. Buying Fairtrade | Fairtrade Foundation | Where to find Fairtrade products

Here’s a list of the Fairtrade goods available as listed on their website:

Bananas, Coffee, Chocolate, Clothes, Flowers, Gold, Cold drinks & juice, Tea, Sweets, Snacks & Grains, Sugar, Spreads & Oil, Wine, Beauty Products, Herbs & Spices.


References:

[1] (Study by Poore & Nemecek 2018, Science) Useful chart on this page, point 7: Climate change: Where we are in seven charts and what you can do to help – BBC News

[2] Land Use – Our World in Data Ellis, E. C., Beusen, A. H., & Goldewijk, K. K. (2020). Anthropogenic Biomes: 10,000 BCE to 2015 CE. Land, 9 (5), 129.

[3] The Fairtrade Website has many useful resources. This page on chocolate: Cocoa farmers | Fairtrade Foundation with it’s video explainer is an eye opener.

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