How Fairtrade partnerships improve livelihoods and businesses


BeanScene speaks with Fairtrade Australia New Zealand and its partnering farmers and roasters about how Fairtrade’s unique system has improved their livelihoods and business.

Something that Fairtrade Australia New Zealand is often asked about, especially within the world of coffee, is the difference between Fairtrade and direct trade.

According to Executive Director, Mike Briers, being Fairtrade certified makes a significant difference to farmers’ and workers’ lives, as well as their communities

“We encourage coffee importers and roasters to have strong relationships with their coffee growers in-country and to assist them with community projects if this is the approach they want to take. However, we feel very strongly that this approach does not compare, in impact, to the Fairtrade system,” Mike says.

“The structures that we have in place all work in different ways to engineer change for the people in each part of the supply chain. So, when we hear a buyer saying that they ‘always pay above the Fairtrade price’ and therefore have no further responsibilities to the coffee growers, it makes us a bit despondent.”

“What’s more, farmers that are involved with direct trade are typically those who are more privileged and who already have the possibility of investing in things like transport and processing. And, because each sale is relatively small volumes, often that one particular buyer takes the best part of the harvest leaving the producer to sell the lower grade product some other way,” Mike says.

In contrast, Fairtrade’s systems are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers and traders in the poorest countries in the world.

Farmers who become Fairtrade certified agree to a set of ‘Standards’ which seek to ensure that people and the planet are protected. And, once certified, they are then able to trade under Fairtrade terms which includes selling their products at the Fairtrade Minimum Price. This means they can cover the costs of production and plan for the future, even when the market price is low.

Their community or cooperative also receive a Fairtrade Premium to invest in improving the quality of their businesses and to provide services like healthcare or access to water for people in their area.

To Mike, a fair price is certainly part of the answer, but so are long-term strategies around product and trade links.

“We empower the producers to make their own decision while working side-by-side with them to develop market linkages,” he says.

“And then, the whole supply chain is independently audited to make sure that each linkage is fair. This means that as well as knowing the farmers are getting a fair go, we also know that the people hulling, drying, packing, transporting, and roasting the coffee are being treated properly.”

Mitchell Ricky is a farmer from the Highland Organic Agriculture Cooperative (HOAC) in Papua New Guinea. HOAC chooses to partner with Fairtrade ANZ because of its equitable trading.

“The relationships we’ve formed with roasters through Fairtrade ANZ are very important because they mean that we have first-hand information on the quality of the product required by roasters that suit their market demand,” says Mitchell.

According to Mitchell the Fairtrade Premium has helped his community reduce poverty and improve education outcomes. He says it has helped farmers place their children in school and assisted them to meet their learning needs.

“The Fairtrade Premium has supported us in school projects like building teachers’ houses and classrooms, supplying school library books and classroom desks. We’ve been able to supply mattresses for rural wards and maternity beds for mothers to give birth. It has also aided us with a water project that provided clean drinking water for more than 20 villages,” Mitchell says.

Mitchell encourages roasters to buy through Fairtrade ANZ due to the Minimum Price that acts as a safety net to cover price fluctuations.

“This helps farmers to cover the costs of producing the required quality to meet the market demand. The Premium then also contributes to improving services, which in turn improves the living standard of the farmers, alleviating poverty,” he says.

Madalena da Costa Soares from the Cooperative Comercio Agricola De Timor (C-CAT) in Timor Leste says partnering with Fairtrade has helped improve her family’s profits from their coffee farm.

“My family grows a lot of coffee. We sell almost two tonnes per year. I used to carry the coffee from the field to my house, wash and sell it to the local markets for a price that was not fair. If the coffee was not dry or of a high enough quality, buyers did not purchase it and would not help us improve the quality so that it met their standards,” she says.

“When we’ve sold our coffee to other buyers, the price we received was much lower, and we did not get the money immediately like we do through C-CAT.

Indeed, fast access to finance is one of the advantages provided to Fairtrade farmers due to the pre-financing programs Fairtrade has in place. Producers also benefit from training and capacity building which means that farmers meet market expectations in terms of quality but also production, environmental and social practices.

It’s not just farmers that believe in Fairtrade. Managing Director of Kokako Organic Coffee Roasters Mike Murphy says the company was using organic coffee before he bought the business in 2007, and he added Fairtrade certification shortly afterwards when he realised how much Fairtrade ANZ’s practices aligned with Kokako’s morals.

“Once I started to meet more people from Fairtrade , I realised that it wasn’t just a pricing mechanism, it was about social equality,  standards, educating farmers on why they shouldn’t use pesticides, climate mitigation and education on disease-resistant varietals of coffee trees ,” says Mike.

“I think it’s really important to have third-party validation. We can’t be everywhere, we can’t go to every farm that we buy from around the world, especially in the last two years. Being affiliated with Fairtrade gives us confidence that we’re actually meeting our own values around equality and quality.”

Mike says the Kokako team have witnessed the tangible benefits of the Fairtrade Premium with their own eyes.

“We’ve seen it in the water sanitation projects, the schools that have been built and the nurseries for replenishing older coffee trees. I’ve also been able to host HOAC representatives Daniel Kinne and Mitchell Ricky here in New Zealand, which means a lot because they share their hospitality with us. It was nice to be able to reciprocate that,” he says.

Kevin Fraikin, Executive Director, of Montville Coffee, says the main reason his roastery partners with Fairtrade is to deal with injustice in the supply chain.

“As a small business, our sphere of influence is quite limited. The amount of coffee we roast doesn’t warrant us buying container loads from the different origins. Being able to partner with Fairtrade ensures that the whole supply chain is supported. Training is also provided, not only to the farmers who directly grow the coffee, but to the whole community,” says Sean.

Sean McGowan, General Manager from Montville says it means that they can provide a direct, transparent, traceable relationship with not only a coffee grower but its community.

“Working with a coffee cooperative we know that once the Fairtrade Premium is available, the coffee community can choose how to spend that premium in their community to improve their livelihoods. This is empowering for Montville Coffee because we aren’t influencing or assuming improvements they’d like to make, we’re giving them the opportunity to invest how they see most appropriate,” Sean says.

Executive Director Mike Briers says Fairtrade will continue to help producers become more income-secure and less vulnerable to poverty.

“As you can probably tell, we’re pretty sold on the idea of Fairtrade being the best long-term approach for people and the planet,” Mike says.

“To us it’s simple, the more products like coffee sold around the world on Fairtrade terms, the greater the chance of ensuring the people who produce those products live a decent life. Doesn’t that sound fair?”

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This article appears in the August 2022 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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