3 Jul 2020

Cooperating to Create Change

To celebrate International Day of Cooperatives on 4 July, we’re highlighting some of the important ways that cooperatives enable farmers to take more control over their futures. Today we look at the power of shared decision-making and ownership.

Shared decision-making and ownership are central principles in Fairtrade certified cooperatives. All members have a voice and vote in the decision-making process of the organization. Members also decide collectively how to use the Fairtrade Premium - the fixed extra sum of money paid on top of the selling price, which farmers themselves decide collectively how to spend. This enables farmers to invest in activities to meet their needs, and to boost their incomes and productivity. A study into Fairtrade’s impact over five years found that Fairtrade contributes towards increased dignity, confidence, and choice for producers, and that the active participation of farmers in democratic decision-making plays a central role in this. It also found that Fairtrade supports farmers to achieve more stability, particularly in times of crisis.

Combatting challenges together

COAGRICSAL cooperative in Honduras is a striking example of the power of collective action to respond to one of the biggest challenges farmers face today – climate change. Together, the cooperative and its 2000 members have planted more than 1.5 million trees and are leading a revival of cocoa production, response to the droughts and disease that climate change is bringing to coffee.

Marlene Soriano, the cooperative’s administrator explains that the "coop members continue to suffer huge losses in coffee, from the coffee tree rust fungus, irregular rains, prolonged dry periods, all directly related to climate change. We realised that we needed to diversify to avoid depending only on coffee, and cocoa can grow in many of the places that coffee is most affected. Cocoa is more resistant to the changes in the climate, and the market prices are more stable. For our farmers, cocoa represents a more reliable future, and it’s better for the climate."

The cooperative’s members got behind the plan and decided to use the Fairtrade Premium to partly fund the nurseries for the grafted, gourmet cocoa plants. Over the course of five years they planted more than 1.2 million cocoa trees and 300,000 canopy trees to shade the cocoa.

Equal say for members, equal rights for women

But the cooperative’s ambition didn’t end there. As well as diversifying, they also decided to move up the value chain and start producing their own brand of chocolate. Earlier this year, they opened their new, state-of the art factory, one of the largest in Latin America. It is run almost entirely by young women – an indication of the cooperative’s commitment to inclusiveness and equal participation.

Alejandra Lemus, 24, is in charge of production in the factory. “Most of these sorts of jobs are [usually] given to men. But, when I arrived here I saw that women are highly valued here. Fairtrade promotes more inclusivity for women. Here, women have many of the admin and decision-making jobs. Really, I think that in the society that we live in, it’s not so easy to achieve things like this.”

Across the globe, Fairtrade certified cooperatives are taking collective action and using their Fairtrade Premium to invest in their businesses, and jointly tackle the challenges they face. From preserving biodiversity in the fragile wetlands of Panama, to cupping and coffee roasting training for farmers at Indonesia’s first all-women coffee cooperative, and most recently, enabling cooperatives to act quickly to support their members and wider communities through the COVID-19 crisis - the actions they take are as diverse as the farmers and the cooperatives themselves.

Back at COAGRICSAL, the coop’s General Manager Oscar Serrano, is convinced that Fairtrade has played a fundamental role in the cooperative’s success: “We are very grateful to the Fairtrade system – without it, our cooperative would not exist. Fairtrade is the vein that gives oxygen to all cooperatives.”