Fairtrade campaigns for hungry smallholder farmers

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David Cameron is being urged to back smallholder farmers around the world during June’s G8 Summit in Northern Ireland.

As part of Fairtrade Fortnight, the Fairtrade Foundation has launched a campaign calling on world leaders to take action over the fact that 500 million smallholder farmers — many who are organised into co-operatives — produce 70 per cent of the world’s food, yet make up half of the most hungry people globally.

A study from Co-operatives UK found that there are 887,000 people in poor countries involved through co-operative production or marketing in Fairtrade, which accounts for 75 per cent of all Fairtrade sales

According to IAASTD (an intergovernmental study of agriculture and development), 870m people go hungry every day. The report to launch the campaign, Powering up Smallholder Farmers to Make Food Fair, said that, even when smallholder farmers are producing cash crops at the far end of lucrative international supply chains, global food supply chains still fail them. 

They remain disempowered within food systems, suppliers of raw commodities rather than as the partners in business they should be. Smallholders receive a poor share of the overall value of their produce, leaving them struggling with the global inflationary prices for food and farm input costs like fuel and fertiliser and often questioning their family’s future in farming.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s CEO Michael Gidney said recent food exposés have confirmed the food system is not working for consumers, but it is time to put the spotlight on the farm-gate at the other end of the supply chain where smallholder farmers are losing out the most. 

He commented: “The food system is broken. It is not working for consumers and it is not working for the people who produce our food.  We need to get trade into a better, more humane balance — valuing what we buy and who produces it.  If these farmers are in crisis, the whole food system is in crisis. And we may have to start imagining a world without many of the foods we love and take for granted each day.”

The campaign is calling the Prime Minister to use his influence, when the UK takes over the chair of the G8 group of world leaders and hosts the summit in Northern Ireland, to put smallholder farmers into the heart of government policy and international and national business practice. 

The report highlights how much people rely on smallholder farmers for everyday foods. Around 30 million smallholders produce most of the world’s coffee and cocoa foods (80 per cent of all coffee and 90 per cent of all cocoa), while tens of millions more produce tea, bananas and sugar.  Many are struggling to earn the sustainable cost of production and are trapped in a cycle of poverty, exacerbated by decades of price volatility, underinvestment in agriculture, and now the impact of climate change.  

In coffee three companies account for around 42 per cent of global coffee sales. Coffee growers receive 7-10 per cent of the retail price  in supermarkets, while 33 per cent goes to the retailer.

Global cocoa supplies are controlled by just nine companies: three grinders and six chocolate and confectionery companies. In 2010, four companies accounted for 56 per cent of the world’s US$82.5 billion chocolate sales. Cocoa growers receive just 3.5-6 per cent of the average retail value of a chocolate bar, compared to 18 per cent in the 1980s.

Seven companies control 85 per cent of tea production through their factories and estates. Smallholder tea growers are likely to receive less than 3 per cent of the retail value of tea, and often less than one per cent.

Of the retail price of bananas, only 5-10 per cent goes to the small-scale producers.

Figures from 2009 suggest that small sugar growers in Uganda received around 14 per cent of the UK retail price of sugar and 11 per cent of the US price.

The Foundation’s report recommends a five point plan to drive change — putting farmers first to make sure their voices are heard in decisions, ensuring fair share of value chains, fair access to finance, building future proofed farming, and increasing the focus of government funding — and inform the policies and practices of governments, donors, multilateral agencies and private sector actors.

There are some signs that smallholder agriculture is starting to be recognised as a potential powerhouse to fix a broken system, including the launch by G8 world leaders of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition at Camp David in the US in 2012.

However, the Foundation argues that overall financial investment remains inadequate compared to the $42.7bn the UN estimates it will take to tackle hunger and provide enough food for all.

With increasing focus by governments on the role of multinational companies and agribusiness, the Foundation believes that policy makers are missing the potential solutions that could be delivered by smallholder farmer organisations themselves as the key agents for food security, rural economic development, and, for some, trading relations that lift communities out of poverty.

Members of the public can log onto the Fairtrade Foundation website to call for a better deal for smallholder farmers.  By turning themselves into foldable ‘mini-marchers’, activists join thousands of tiny figures at their first demonstration in  Parliament Square on March 4th. They will be joined by dozens of celebrity ‘mini-marchers’ including Jonathan Ross, Bruce Forsyth, Harry Hill, Allegra McEvedy and Eddie Izzard.

The final petition will be delivered to David Cameron at World Fair Trade Day in May before the G8 meeting the following month.

• To take part in the campaign, visit: step.fairtrade.org.uk.

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About Anthony Murray

Executive Editor of Co-operative News