24 Jun 2021

What is Fair? Producers, business owners and partners share their views

Fairtrade International and Fairtrade Africa hosted a panel event on 23 June 2021 as part of the annual Africa Fairtrade Convention, focusing on the future of fairness and social justice in a fast-evolving world.

Moderated by Kenyan journalist and communications expert Uduak Amimo, the ‘What is Fair?’ panel event global conversation featured leading experts in the field of sustainable agriculture, exploring the key elements behind how consumers, producers, and traders across the globe can come together and build a fairer and more sustainable future for all.

Panellists included Jennie Coleman, Owner and President, Equifruit, a 100% Fairtrade banana importer and member of the World Banana Forum; Daniel Duarte, Co-founder and CEO of koakult --makers of koawach, which sources 100% of its cocoa and guarana as Fairtrade; Dr. Marco Hartmann, Head of Programme, Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains and Standards at GIZ, the German government’s agency for sustainable development; and Ousmane Traore, Chairman at ECAKOOG, a Fairtrade certified Ivorian cocoa cooperative. Chuck Mulloy, Chief Revenue Officer at Farmforce AS, a service provider delivering digital solutions to secure sustainable sourcing, improve farmer quality of life and protect the environment, was unable to join due to technical difficulties.

So what does social justice and fairness have to do with agriculture?

Human rights, including the right to a living income or a living wage, was mentioned by several panellists as a key component of fairness. Marco Hartmann of GIZ noted that the average cocoa farming household earns only about one third of a living income. This is now increasingly in focus in the cocoa sector, as different initiatives such as Fairtrade’s living income reference prices and projects with commercial partners and cocoa cooperatives are identifying the most effective steps to improve farmer incomes.

Jennie Coleman of Equifruit talked about living wages in the banana sector as being “vital.” The World Banana Forum, of which Equifruit is a member, is working on a joint declaration on living wages, but there are still difficulties in overcoming competitive disadvantages of paying a living wage, when other companies aren’t playing by the same ethical rules. For Fairtrade certified banana plantations, there is a step-wise plan to progress toward living wages, with a base wage provision taking effect on 1 July this year.

Ousmane Traore from ECAKOOG explained the importance of data ownership and supply chain transparency for farmers, as well as customers. ECAKOOG is working in partnership with Farmforce AS to develop an internal management system to track where and how their members’ cocoa is grown – a system that they will own and can use with commercial partners, not the other way around, dependent on data systems owned and managed by others.

As a business owner, Daniel Duarte from koakult also sees data as essential for running a successful business. From customer surveys to get input for improving products, to analyzing communication channels, to having insights into the company’s cost structure and margins, data is needed in every facet of the business. Koakult also puts a high priority on communicating with farmers and sharing their stories – another crucial aspect of both understanding where their product is coming from, and sharing this insight with customers.

Tackling the legacy of colonialism and its continued effects on trade systems of today was another topic in the discussion. Equitable partnerships have to be strengthened as part of doing business, supported by governments and civil society as well.

Mr. Duarte from koakult shared his perspective as a native of Colombia, which experienced colonization by Spain. He stressed the importance, not just of political independence, but also for farmers to experience working in cooperatives, making decisions together. This gives farmers more power collectively, and the ability form partnerships with companies from abroad on a fairer footing.

Mr. Hartmann from GIZ reflected on multi-stakeholder partnerships, bringing together the private sector, policy makers, and civil society to make progress across the agricultural sector. He shared examples from Germany, including the Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains (INA), the Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil (FONAP), and the German Initiative on Cocoa (GISCO).

The panellists also shared final thoughts on what is needed to achieve social justice in agriculture. Finding new markets and ensuring farmers have access to them. Including women. Shifting to organic production and agroforestry. Making use of technology. Educating people – where does their fruit come from? Who has grown it, and under what conditions? When people understand the issues, they make better choices. And finally, keep choosing Fairtrade – all of us, whether shopping in the market, running a business, or setting government policy. As Mr. Duarte said, it can change the world.

At Fairtrade we believe the future is fair. But what does fair mean to us and how do we get there? Watch the video below and find out: