20 Nov 2018

Are we there yet? Progress and learnings on tracking our impact

It’s one thing to have a lofty vision, and another thing to actually bring it to fruition. Fairtrade’s vision is a world in which farmers and workers can enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential, and decide on their future.

2018 Impact Monitoring SPO Meeting 800
Gaining insights from Fairtrade farmers and workers.
Image: Fairtrade International

We exist to secure a better deal for Fairtrade farmers and workers, but how do we know if what we’re doing is working? Are we empowering farmers and workers? Are we contributing to more sustainable livelihoods and more resilient communities in the countries where we operate? Are we making trade practices fairer?

Answering these questions isn’t simple, but it’s necessary for creating more systemic, sustainable change. It has been also broadly recognized as critical for the credibility of sustainability standards, as outlined in the ISEAL Alliance’s Impact Code that Fairtrade follows.

Here’s what this looks like for Fairtrade. First, we start with our Theory of Change. This is our ‘living’ impact framework that defines what we are trying to do, how we expect to get there, and what we should be checking to determine progress towards our goals.

Our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) system – which includes experts at Fairtrade offices around the world – collects and analyses several types of data:

  1. Monitoring the size and scope of Fairtrade. We collect and analyze data from Fairtrade certification audits as well as market-relevant information such as Fairtrade volumes produced, Fairtrade sales, Fairtrade premium generated, numbers of farmers and workers by gender, etc. We publish these data annually.

  2. Monitoring Fairtrade benefits and impact. We started a new large-scale monitoring effort in 2016 to give us an unprecedented level of information about how Fairtrade farmers and workers are doing at the household, organizational and community level. This impact monitoring initiative has focused initially on our biggest products (coffee, cocoa, and bananas), with a sample of cooperatives and member households selected in several countries each year. Between 2016 and 2018, Fairtrade staff have conducted baseline interviews and focus groups with 67 cooperatives and their members in 10 countries, which will be revisited in a three-year cycle to measure progress over time.

    The data generated through this exercise allow us to better understand farmers’ experience and perceptions, looking at dimensions such as trading relations, democratic values of farmer cooperatives, gender equity, and more. We have just published a high-level summary from the 2016 baseline collection, including producer organizations from Dominican Republic, Ghana, India and Kenya. From 2019, we will also expand to cover workers on plantations producing tea, bananas, and flowers. By building this robust internal dataset over time, based on more than 100 questions and data points, we will be able to mine the information for insights that we can share with producer organizations themselves, and that can inform our programmes and shape our support of farmers and workers.

  3. Independent evaluations. We commission independent evaluations that enable us to understand the impact of particular programmes, for particular commodities or along particular dimensions of our Theory of Change framework. Evaluations also allow us to be critical of ourselves and push for new solutions. For example, a recent commissioned study in Côte d’Ivoire has helped us understand the average household income of Fairtrade cocoa farmers in the country, and the gap between that and a living income. We have taken action on this as an urgent priority, in partnership with other stakeholders, and will continue measuring our progress toward a living income for cocoa farmers.

There is great opportunity to analyze the available external research and think creatively about how to expand impact for Fairtrade producers. We are increasingly finding value in developing research partnerships with universities to develop collaborative tools. For example, a collaboration with the University of Leeds led to, among other things, a ’Step Into Their Shoes’ training and reflection game to promote better collaboration and result in research that brings more benefits to farmers and workers. We have also developed an Academic Engagement Policy to ensure that researchers and Fairtrade work on the most pressing research gaps.

All of this information would be useless without learning (the ‘L’ in our MEL system). Learning is the process of sharing impact information, reflecting on it, and building it into improvements in our system and programmes to better meet the needs of farmers and workers and support their own empowerment. We do this by publishing research and evaluation, and by disseminating the information back to the farmers and workers via Fairtrade Producer Networks and targeted impact workshops. Robust impact evidence also allows different actors in the Fairtrade system to use the learnings to influence policy and to inform decision-making bodies.

Fairtrade’s vision and goals shape the nature of our impact journey and ultimately whether we are able to realize a more sustainable future for farmers and workers. Along the way, we have learned a lot about how to make monitoring, evaluation and learning work, and ensure it is credible, rigorous, and transparent. Yes, we face challenges but we learn and continuously improve. When we improve, farmers and workers benefit.

If you have any questions about Fairtrade’s MEL system or impact, feel free to contact us at impact [@] fairtrade.net.