30 Apr 2024

Strong producer organisations are the foundation of a sustainable future

Sharing the results of a five-year programme to strengthen Fairtrade producers as inclusive, well governed advocates for fairer policies.

Fairtrade ambassadors in the Euro Parliament 2022 870
Fairtrade ambassadors (L to R) Kouadio Yah Rosine (Côte d'Ivoire, cocoa farmer), Ana Beatriz Polo (Ecuador, banana farmer), Edimar Martins (Brazil, coffee farmer) and Deborah Osei-Mensah (Ghana, cocoa) met with Heidi Hautala (center), Vice President of the European Parliament, at the Fair Trade Breakfast at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2022.
Fairtrade International / Guzal Matniyazova

Farmers and agricultural workers are at the front line of many sustainability issues – the future of food, biodiversity, climate change, tackling deforestation, and protecting human rights.

But are producers prepared to deal with these challenges, particularly through strong and well governed cooperatives and organisations? Do women and young people have opportunities to build sustainable livelihoods? And are producers able to coordinate and influence global priorities to reflect the views, ideas and interests of the people who grow the world’s food?

We recently wrapped up a five-year grant from the European Commission that focused on building the capacity of Fairtrade producers to tackle these issues within their organisations, and to advocate for trade policies that are fairer for farmers and workers. The grant was part of the EC’s Framework Partnership Agreement targeting progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals – in this case, especially SDGs 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth).

Here are four of the most exciting things that happened thanks to this grant-funded programme.

1. Stronger and more inclusive governance

Research shows that well governed, democratic producer organisations provide more benefits to their farmer members. That’s why Fairtrade emphasises so many aspects of good governance and management through our Standards, and the programmes that the three regional Fairtrade producer networks provide.

The grant supported reviews and restructuring of the Fairtrade producer networks’ own governance structures to better represent diverse regions and products grown by the more than 1,900 Fairtrade certified producer organisations in 70 countries.

For instance, the Fairtrade Network of Asia Pacific Producers (NAPP) decentralised its governance system by creating four regional conferences, Central Asia, South Asia, South-East Asia and Pacific. These conferences now elect a set of members to attend NAPP’s annual general assembly to vote on decisions and more effectively represent the priorities of each region.

The grant also supported strengthening accountability mechanisms, with each producer network – and Fairtrade International – developing or renewing about 15 key policies in alignment with Fairtrade’s Organisation Code, including for gender equality, sexual harassment prevention, anti-fraud, and whistleblowing. The producer networks also standardised and strengthened policies and mechanisms related to safeguarding and human rights due diligence, including setting up grievance mechanisms at the producer organisation level and developing an app to support whistleblowing.

When it comes to gender, each Fairtrade producer network developed a gender strategy in consultation with their membership. Aiming to drive more inclusive and representative governance, the producer networks held more than 100 trainings and workshops, about half of which focused on women. That means the grant programme supported almost 4,000 Fairtrade producers (55 percent women and 47 percent young people) to be better prepared to take up leadership roles in their cooperatives, communities, and within the producer network itself.

2. Young Fairtrade farmers are more active and connected than ever

As farmer populations age around the world, Fairtrade is working with producer communities to help develop the next generation of farmers and fairness advocates. This programme enabled huge leaps forward in inclusion and building the skills of more than 1,800 young farmers as fairness advocates.

For instance, CLAC established a leadership school for 61 young people (two-thirds of them women) in three cohorts: the Andean region (Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia), the Mexico and Central America region (Dominican Republic, Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica), and the Southern Cone region (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay). Over five years, CLAC conducted 16 workshops and two regional forums specifically for young farmers. Topics included leadership for service, entrepreneurship, inclusion, governance and climate change.

Fairtrade Africa also developed a Rights-Based Youth-Inclusive Workplan across seven producer organisations in five countries (South Africa, Eswatini, Kenya, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia). Together the organisations are working to develop youth-inclusive policies, action plans, and “shadow” boards so that young people get exposure to and participate in governance issues.

In Asia Pacific, Fairtrade producer network NAPP developed a comprehensive youth strategy from the bottom up, bringing together young farmers to identify their priorities for their respective regions and products. These priorities were presented and endorsed by participants at the inaugural NAPP Youth Conference in Jakarta in 2023, which convened more than 30 young leaders from eight countries (Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Fiji, Timor-Leste). NAPP also created an online resource (called the “youth knowledge hub”) for young farmers from seven producer organisations in India to support learning and exchange on agribusiness, diversified income opportunities, climate change, and technology in agriculture.

In addition, Fairtrade International launched a programme for farmers between the ages of roughly 20 and 35 to build their skills as leaders, communicators and advocates. These 25 Fairtrade ambassadors – 48 percent of them women – participated in workshops in 2022 and 2023 on topics such as leadership, advocacy, and public speaking.

In 2023 for example, drawing on their own expertise and new skills, 11 of these ambassadors spoke at 24 high-level events – such as meetings with European Parliament members in Brussels – to powerfully represent the perspective of young producers and engage with policymakers and the private sector.

3. Producers take the lead in advocacy

Our advocacy efforts through this funding went beyond engaging young people. Fairtrade’s global strategy emphasises promoting and amplifying producers’ direct involvement in high-level policy discussions.

Fairtrade farmers participated in 50 high-level events thanks to the grant, such as the 2023 COP28 global climate change conference, where Fairtrade producers took part in seven panels. Ana Laura Sayago, a Fairtrade organic honey producer from Argentina, spoke in front of the main plenary session to represent the Farmers’ Constituency and farmers worldwide.

Fairtrade also developed an open sign-on letter from producers to influence the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive. The grant funded Fairtrade ambassador and cocoa farmer Deborah Mensai-Oseh from Ghana to attend meetings in Brussels, speaking to EU lawmakers about the need for companies to share the burden of due diligence compliance. (The directive just passed one of the final hurdles to becoming law last week, and Fairtrade continues to advocate for its fair implementation.)

In addition, each producer network developed a regional advocacy strategy through this funding. NAPP selected five countries to focus on in the next few years. Fairtrade Africa developed advocacy priorities bottom-up from their country networks and based on major product areas. In Latin America and the Caribbean, CLAC is working through national platforms to influence relevant legislation.

4. New resources bring attention to human rights and other issues

The grant funded the creation of website for companies and policymakers on the human rights and environmental risks in global commodities, as a resource to support due diligence. Launched in early 2023 and now covering six products plus carbon credits, the Fairtrade Risk Map outlines the main challenges in global supply chains, and how Fairtrade mitigates them. The information was compiled by experts and validated by producers themselves, providing an invaluable resource to understanding the realities within supply chains and highlighting areas that companies and governments can focus on to address root causes.

The grant also paid for some of our work in supporting producers to understand how to undertake human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD), including the development of a guide specifically for large-scale farms.

In addition, the grant funded 29 research studies and position papers – on topics from sustainable agriculture to promoting living incomes in the cocoa sector – that contributed to wider knowledge in key areas, and informed advocacy influencing work at various levels.

What’s next?

Stronger governance, inclusion, advocacy and tools all pave the way for positive change now, and in the coming years.

According to the grant’s external evaluators, “The program's effectiveness is notably characterised by its capacity to generate ripple effects that resonate across different dimensions, spanning programmatic, organisational and geographical boundaries.”

As women and young people are better integrated into their organisations, and farmers and workers have more input into Fairtrade as well as into global policy, we are optimistic that farmers and workers will influence the achievement of the SDGs and push the world toward a more sustainable future.

We are already underway with the next project thanks to a new set of funding from the European Commission, to extend our work on transparency and traceability, including pushing forward in areas of deforestation risk management. As new deforestation and due diligence legislation moves forward, we’ll continue to call for a fair sharing of the costs of compliance and share what we learn together with producers.