While a new deal has just been agreed at the COP21 summit in Paris by world leaders, small-scale producers from across the world continue to face the consequences of climate change.
Among them is Luis Martínez Villanueva, from UCIRI, a union of indigenous coffee co-operatives in Mexico. UCIRI sells Fairtrade coffee, exporting the majority of its products to Europe and Canada. The union was set up in 1982 by producers from four different regions to help them transport their coffee to other cities and gain access to the market. This has helped the small scale farmers cut out the intermediaries that were buying their coffee at low prices. The union includes 2,500 families from 55 communities. As well as selling coffee, they also produce marmalade from tropical fruits and corn.
Over the past four years the impact of climate change has been more severe, says Mr Villanueva. “The greatest challenge is coffee leaf rust, a disease we’ve had for over 20 years now but which has become more aggressive in the past four years. In some regions it has led to a 80% loss of production,” he said.
Another challenge brought about by climate change is that of droughts. Typically June, July and August are rainy months in Mexico. But over the past two years the country has witnessed droughts which have affected the harvest. Hurricanes have also had a devastating impact on the country’s farmers, displacing many families.
“Farmers are the people most affected by climate change”, says Mr Villanueva. To support its producers the union has started helping them diversify production to include basic crops and fruits as well as coffee. They are also receiving support to harvest types of coffee that are resistant to leaf rust. If farmers do not have access to loans they cannot continue to do their job, he explains. This is why the co-operative is providing financial support to those whose harvest is lost due to weather fluctuations or natural disasters. Farmers also have access to the country’s commercial bank, with help from the Government.
This month Mr Villanueva has travelled to Paris for the COP21 Climate Change conference. Here he represented Fairtrade producers.
“The event in general was very big, a lot of interests involved – too many. As a producer, I saw very few producers there even though we are directly affected by climate change,” he said, adding that countries were unwilling to compromise but willing to accommodate the interest of big companies and energy giants.
“We need an alternative path, with clear rules and benefits for small producers. We should all be responsible, small scale farmers should not be the only ones bearing the cost of climate change. If we don’t do this together we might as well not do it at all,” he said.
UCIRI produces organic Fairtrade coffee and forms part of Fairtrade International. The global organisation has launched a carbon credit scheme to encourage companies to take responsibility for the emissions they produce.
“Fairtrade’s proposal aims to give an ethical dimension to the system. As a co-operative we are not yet involved in this Project but we are working with organisations across Mexico to create more transparency within the market. We check that companies who claim to have an ethical approach actually implement these practices and we try to involve consumers as well,” he said.
“We are glad when we receive feedback from consumers that buy Fairtrade products such as coffee, bananas and chocolate. If we communicate we can improve and we need to receive feedback from consumers,” he added.
- You can find all our coverage from the COP21 climate summit here.