5 Oct 2022

Six facts you did not know about (Fairtrade) coffee

Coffee is one of the most traded commodities in the world, following oil, steel, or precious metals. With billions of cups of coffee consumed every day, it also one of the most popular beverages. International Coffee Day, celebrated on October 1, is a great opportunity to think about the people whom we owe our energizing and tasty coffee: the farmers.

Fair Coffee
© Mary-Ann Weber

Smallholder farmers produce 70–80% of global coffee. Unfortunately they often do not get a fair pay for their work. One of the ways to improve the standards of living and working conditions of farmers is through Fairtrade – a product certification scheme and trade partnership based on dialogue, transparency, and respect. Read on to learn six facts that you might have not known about coffee that carries the FAIRTRADE Mark.

1. More than 800 thousand farmers in 656 cooperatives

It is estimated that as many as 125 million people make a living out of coffee. And it all begins with those who produce coffee beans. Fairtrade is an ethical product certification scheme that brings together 838,116 farmers who grow coffee in the so-called ‘Coffee Belt’, which is the area between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Farmers in the Fairtrade system do not work on their own but join cooperatives in order to face challenges more efficiently, negotiate contracts, share knowledge and make best possible use of the money earned through Fairtrade. Currently there are 656 Fairtrade-certified coffee producer organizations across four continents.

2. A safety net in a very unpredictable context

According to predictions, in 2022 global coffee sector may generate over 430 billion dollars, and by 2028 the value can grow to nearly 500 billion dollars. At the same time many coffee farmers earn as little as one dollar or less a day, mostly due to coffee price fluctuation on the global market, extreme weather phenomena that threaten coffee production or global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Fairtrade responds to this challenge. Farmers in the Fairtrade system profit from income stability secured by the Fairtrade Minimum Price. It is a fixed price for products that aims at covering production costs and securing livelihood, which is applied when market price falls.

Fairtrade International takes multiple actions in order to constantly improve living standards of farmers. For example, consultations with smallholder coffee farmers from Columbia and Indonesia and experts led to setting so-called Living Income Reference Prices, which would be sufficient for decent living. These are the prices that coffee farmers should receive for their crop to earn enough money to cover such expenses as decent housing, nutritious food, education, and other needs that make a decent live. Currently, payment of Living Income Reference Prices is voluntary for companies that want to secure decent earnings across their supply chains.

3. From schools to infrastructure: 483 million euros to benefit farmers and local communities

When farmers in the Fairtrade system sell their crop, they receive an additional sum of money, the Fairtrade Premium, on top of the selling price. The Premium is paid out to farmer cooperatives, which manage the funds in a democratic way and decide together how to best use the money for development. The projects funded by the Fairtrade Premium include farm improvement, purchase of machinery and equipment or investment in transition to organic farming. The Premium also serves to finance projects that benefit local communities, such as renovating schools, running a health center or setting up a drinking water supplies. Since 2015, coffee farmers in Fairtrade-certified cooperatives have received the total amount of 483 million euros of Fairtrade Premium.

4. Striving for Gender Equality

Fifteen percent of farmers are women, meaning a vast majority of Fairtrade coffee farmers are men. There is a number of reasons behind low participation of women, but lack of gender equality remains an important factor.

The goal of Fairtrade Standards is to increase the number of women who own and run their own farms in order to allow more women to access the advantages of Fairtrade. The ‘Women in Coffee’ project is a case in point. The project is carried out among others in Kenya’s Kapkiyay cooperative and includes 325 women farmers of all ages. The project supports women in developing their skills, learning new farming practices, and ultimately generating profits on their own. The project’s agenda also includes changing the perception of the role of women in local communities. The ‘Women in Coffee’ project has changed the lives of many women who became owners of coffee plots and receive money for their crop. Women take part in trainings aimed at improving the volume and quality of coffee; a tangible result of the trainings is the doubling of productivity from 2 to 4 kilograms per tree.

5. Fairtrade coffee means quality

A considerable part of Fairtrade coffee also falls into the specialty category. Fairtrade producer networks have organized the Golden Cup competition in order to promote Fairtrade coffee and increase its presence across the whole global coffee sector. The goal of the event is to promote high quality coffee produced by Fairtrade-certified cooperatives across the world. This year’s edition is carried out in 15 countries. Golden Cup competition encourages producers to improve the quality of their coffee, while offering them an opportunity to strike up business contacts with potential buyers and make new deals.

6. More environmentally friendly, more resilient to climate change

For over three years Fairtrade trained 8.500 coffee farmers in two regions across Kenya to raise awareness on climate change. Fairtrade’s Climate Academy in Africa is an extensive program with the objective of making coffee farmers more resilient to changing weather conditions. During the course specialist were highlighting the importance of crop diversification. Therefore each cooperative set up greenhouses to get familiar with the cultivation of various fruits and vegetables to avoid relying heavily on one commodity. Fairtrade’s Climate Academy supports farmers adjust their current agricultural practices towards more sustainable ones, and how to use alternative energy sources. Farmers received support for day-to-day changes such as more energy efficient cooking appliances with the use coffee briquettes, or having solar panels for the use for radio, mobile phone charging and light. As a result 80% of the program’s participants applied the new technologies, which were advocated during the training.