7 Jul 2022

Fairtrade and Earthworm Foundation Join Forces in ‘Landmark’ Partnership to Combat Deforestation

BONN, Germany / NYON, Switzerland – A new partnership launched by Fairtrade International, Fairtrade Africa, and non-profit organization Earthworm Foundation will work together to monitor deforestation and assess environmental vulnerability. Using Starling, a satellite monitoring tool developed by Earthworm Foundation and Airbus, the pilot project aims to capture critical deforestation data within Fairtrade cooperatives and their smallholder cocoa farmers in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire to support these communities in better management of forest landscapes.

The partnership, which comes amid the European Commission’s push to ban imports of cocoa, coffee and other commodities when production is associated with deforestation, will strengthen cooperatives and their smallholder members’ access to risk management data, better enabling them to maintain access to their core markets in Europe and beyond.

“We are thrilled to announce this landmark partnership that will explore how powerful data sets can be leveraged by cooperatives and their members for their own risk analysis processes and in alignment with expected government regulation against deforestation not just in the European Union but also in the United Kingdom and United States,” said Jon Walker, Senior Advisor for Cocoa at Fairtrade International.

While supportive of the need for deforestation legislation, Fairtrade has called on the European Union to ensure that all adopted measures against deforestation include fairness and social justice as core elements of legislation. Fairtrade has long voiced concern about the impact deforestation legislation could have on smallholder farmers, their livelihoods, and their communities. Indeed, a vast majority of cocoa smallholders work on farms smaller than five hectares, live in extremely vulnerable contexts burdened by economic insecurity and the growing impacts of climate change, and are reliant on cocoa for the majority of their household income. Losing access to core markets, such as the European Union, would be devastating to these impacted farmers who would still need to earn a living and may be driven to deforestation and unregulated work as a result. These unintended consequences would ultimately undermine sustainability, forest preservation, and the very intention of deforestation regulations.

Jon Walker noted, however, that the Fairtrade-Earthworm Foundation partnership would provide smallholder cocoa farmers with some of the tools needed to assist in navigating any legislative complications that threaten their livelihoods while providing a concrete measure towards preserving the environment.

“This partnership will finally direct the transfer of deforestation risk data in a meaningful way to cooperatives and their members in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana using the principles of Fair Data,” Mr. Walker continued. “In this manner, we can ensure that those with the least power in supply chains have access to this critical data and can use it to improve their livelihoods and beneficially impact their communities.”

“Ultimately, we hope the European Union will work with producing country governments to ensure that all smallholders are supported with market access. However, given the timelines of the impending regulation and its global scope impacting millions of cocoa and coffee smallholders, Fairtrade felt there was an urgency to launch this pilot now,” he added.

The partnership, which is expected to rollout the first deforestation alerts in the summer of 2022, will see Earthworm Foundation co-create with cooperatives a series of environmental vulnerability assessment tools, which will:

  • analyze requirements for deforestation monitoring and risk analysis; receive, inspect, and validate geospatial data received from Fairtrade International on behalf of Fairtrade Africa and the relevant cooperatives;
  • assemble necessary background data layers for Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana relevant for deforestation alerts/risk analyses and environmental vulnerability assessments, and given various standards, compliance criteria, and regulations;
  • leverage Starling base maps and forest cover change monitoring to deliver near-real-time deforestation alerts and environmental and deforestation risk analyses ; and
  • create and deliver training materials to enable interpretation and action on these alerts and analyses for smallholders’ cooperatives, as well as conduct a series of workshops with cooperatives to further facilitate interpretation.

"Earthworm Foundation is excited to implement this project with Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Africa,” said Rob McWilliam, Director of Technical Services at Earthworm Foundation.

“We look forward to proving our experience and knowledge of using Starling’s land cover and forest cover change datasets to tackle deforestation and support actions for addressing environmental vulnerabilities. We are also excited to be working further with farmers and their organizations to develop fit for purpose tools to enhance their work on the ground.”

This article was revised on 10.08.2022 to remove incorrect information on project funding.