24 Jul 2023

Agroecology transitions

Climate change and unbalanced trade relations have endangered our global food systems. We urgently need a systemic change to secure healthy food for the growing population.

ASOBRIS Coffee 20211

Without bold action from key stakeholders and decision-makers that will accelerate the resilience of our food systems, our favourite foods might be at risk in the future. Farmers and workers already suffer from degraded soil, water pollution, poor biodiversity, climate change, and excessive use of toxic pesticides. Sustainability can be achieved, but it requires determination and coherent actions to address three pillars: economic, social, and environmental.

The interlinkages between agriculture, environment, and climate change, in connection with social development and economic viability, are fundamental for Fairtrade's mission and vision towards improving sustainability.

There are many different approaches to sustainable agriculture. A recent IUCN paper identified 14 of them with their own values and merits. Fairtrade considers that agriculture approaches should be context-specific and guided by an overarching set of principles. In that sense, 'agroecology principles' align the most with Fairtrade's origins, mission, vision, and theory of change.

How Fairtrade promotes agroecology principles

Many Fairtrade certified farms worldwide have adopted the principles of agroecology, as they can be applied in smallholder settings and plantations. Given the synergies, standard drivers, and shared principles, agroecology is compatible with organic farming.

Our standards prohibit the use of certain agrochemicals that are harmful to the environment and encourage farmers to reduce the use of pesticides. This allows farmers to improve their land, develop nutrient-rich soils to support healthy plants and encourage wildlife to help control pests and diseases.

The standards also forbid the use of genetically modified organisms(GMOs). While there isn't robust evidence of how they affect human health, their use is commonly associated with market dependencies. Fairtrade standards also consider human rights and social dimensions related to agroecology, like gender equity, workers' rights, land rights, and solidarity in general.

Fairtrade also organises training for farmers to learn how to grow under the principles of agroecology.

Many producers also invest their Fairtrade Premium – the extra money they get for selling on Fairtrade terms – in various projects aimed at diversifying their farms, combating forced labour, or restoring nature.

Strengthening farmers' skills and knowledge through technical support is also crucial. Fairtrade certified organisations and cooperatives are provided access to training and information to give them the resources to become more aware of environmental, social, and economic issues and their impact on their lives and crops.

Fairtrade's Policy Position for sustainable agriculture is the result of an extensive consultative process, including inputs provided by 25 key informants from the Fairtrade system, 230 Fairtrade certified producer organisations, and 13 external peer reviewers/experts in the field of human rights, economy, gender, agronomy, forestry, and public health. It concludes with the consensus that Fairtrade must transition toward embracing agroecology to operationalise the 25 policy positions.

How the Fairtrade Premium can help preserve biodiversity

Fairtrade producers understand that a healthy environment is crucial to their livelihoods.

That's why one cocoa cooperative in Ghana set up the Sanfoka Project to combat a core threat contributing to low incomes- climate change.

The Sankofa project aims to have 400 farmers, each farming at least one hectare of land using dynamic agroforestry practices by 2025 and to start another 1,000 farmers using these practices. The project is also scaling up other diversified food systems (not including other trees) with a broader base of farmers, aiming for at least 2,500 households.

Continuing to scale up agroecological programmes like Sankofa will require investment and long-term commitment to sustainable sourcing – as well as a sense of urgency for all actors in the supply chain to address climate change that is progressively threatening the livelihoods of so many.