9 Apr 2020

Fairtrade’s living income work is more relevant than ever

As fears of a long-term economic downturn increase, a living income - defined as enough to cover essential needs such as food, water, housing, health care, and weather unexpected events - becomes more relevant than ever. Fairtrade is making important strides in making living incomes a reality.

By Carla Veldhuyzen van Zanten, Senior Advisor Sustainable Livelihoods

Beatrice Boakye, cocoa farmer in Ghana, preparing lunch her home.
Kate Fishpool

The speed at which the coronavirus outbreak has spread across the globe reminds us of how interconnected we all are. But it also amplifies the vulnerability of those who do not have the luxury of a stable income, clean water to wash their hands, or a safe home they can isolate themselves in.

How can you get through the weeks and months ahead, if you can’t afford to stock your cupboard, see a doctor and have no means to home-school your kids? These are questions that so many people around the world are confronted with right now, but are common struggles for millions of smallholder farmers who already barely make enough money to feed their families and send their children to school.

As fears of a long-term economic downturn increase, a living income becomes more relevant than ever. Defined as sufficient income for a decent standard of living, a living income covers essential household needs such as food, water, housing, education, health care, transport, and clothing, plus a little extra for savings and unexpected events – clearly needed at times like these.

We depend on small-scale farmers for so much of our daily food and drink intake – from our morning coffee, to our post-run banana or nerve-soothing cup of tea and chocolate bar. We are all neighbours in this global community and at Fairtrade we are committed to support farmers and workers as they face great uncertainties around their earnings both in the near future and in the long term. We are moving forward with renewed determination to make living incomes for farmers and workers a reality.

Moving from strategy into action: our progress so far

In 2017, Fairtrade developed its Living Income Strategy, with a roadmap for making tangible progress towards living incomes. To succeed, we rely on everyone involved in the supply chain to work together and play their part, from farmers themselves and their producer organizations to traders, brands, retailers and governments.

During the past year, Fairtrade has made important strides in moving the Living Income Strategy forward:

  • In Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, we have set Living Income Reference Prices for cocoa, indicating the price a productive farmer needs in order to earn a living income. We have also established Living Income Reference Prices for vanilla from Madagascar and Uganda and have laid the groundwork to establish Living Income Reference Prices for coffee in several origins.
  • We have initiated living income pilot projects in collaboration with cocoa companies and retailers, to test our strategy in practice. In these projects, several commercial partners are volunteering to pay the Living Income Reference Price, while the producer organizations they source from commit to improve the productivity of their member farmers.
  • We are supporting farmers to keep better farm records– many of them don’t know what their monthly outgoings and incomes are, or how much they actually earn from their crops. Simple tools like records books and training for farmers who can’t read or write make a big difference.
  • We have stepped up our efforts in advocacy and campaigning to foster a favourable policy environment for living incomes in the global south. This includes development of an advocacy action plan, by the newly established living income advocacy working group, to influence governments, industry platforms, and civil society.

Additional insights into Fairtrade’s recent actions, accomplishments and plans for 2020 are in our Fairtrade Living Income Progress Report. We welcome comments, questions and ideas from anyone who wants to contribute to making living incomes a reality. You can contact me directly at c.veldhuyzen(at)fairtrade.net.

While we continue our work throughout these uncertain times, we encourage you to shop responsibly and choose Fairtrade products whenever possible. Your shopping decisions not only impact you and your direct community, but also your global community, thousands of kilometres away, working hard to continue providing the goods that we all enjoy.