How are Fairtrade smallholder farmers coping with climate change?

Fairtrade International’s senior climate advisor Juan Pablo Solis talks to the News about an upcoming report on the growing crisis

As one of the most vulnerable groups to climate change, smallholder farmers are already impacted by rising temperatures, draughts or unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events, among others.

In an upcoming report – due ahead of the COP26 talks – Fairtrade International will explore how small-scale farmers are affected by climate change. Juan Pablo Solis, Fairtrade’s senior advisor on climate and environment, says the impact on producers will depend on their region and the crop they produce.

“The effects can vary in severity and frequency according to a set of conditions like altitude, proximity to water sources, quality of the soil, exposure to sunlight,” he adds. “That is why most scientists agree that there are no silver bullets to overcome climate risks in agriculture.”

He recommends a five-step approach: identify the potential environmental risks to production; rank the severity and frequency of these hazards; mitigate their potential effects; find ways to adapt options through “learning by doing”; and use any lessons learnt to repeat the cycle.

Related: Fairtrade movement releases position paper for COP26

Fairtrade’s research suggests that being members of a co-op helps farmers better cope with climate change, especially for smallholder farmers with limited access to land and information.

“Being a member of a producer organisation like a co-op enables social coherence and complementation,” says Mr Solis. “With regards to climate change, it helps to increase the scale of climate adaptation actions.”

Some measures, such as planting trees, contribute to both mitigation and adaptation.

“The incorporation of trees in farms generates environmental services that increase the climate resilience of a farmer, such as water regulation, microclimate control, carbon sequestration, income diversification, erosion control, and alternative food production,” adds Mr Solis. “Agroforestry systems help mitigation – absorbing and sequestering greenhouse gases, for instance – and adaptation.”

Other practical steps include those taken by farmers in Ethiopia and India to adopt energy-efficient cook stoves and generate Fairtrade Carbon Credits through their production of coffee and rice, respectively. 

A significant number of Fairtrade producers are also organic, adopting agro-ecological practices to reduce their dependency on synthetic fertilisers, which are based on fossil fuels. 

“There are many good examples that are worth sharing,” says Mr Solis.

But money remains a challenge. “Market prices for commodities tend to be very volatile and force even those who receive the minimum Fairtrade price out of being able to invest as much as desired in climate adaptation actions,” says Mr Solis. “In our COP26 Position Paper we are calling on market actors to pay at least living income and living wage reference prices, and also to adopt the true value/true cost of our food products. Government funding is also important for scaling these efforts. But even more important than funding is political will. Governments need to set the rules of the game to enable market actors to be consistent with their climate commitments.

The report will help Fairtrade International to focus and set priorities, he adds. “Our global strategy 2021-2026 has a clear mandate to support small-scale producer organisations and hired labour organisations to increase their climate resilience. In that sense, the study helps us to identify those hotspots, assess the level of vulnerability across various regions and fine-tune context-specific strategies to provide that much-needed support.”