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Fairtrade,climate change, gender equality

NSC News | Monday, 10 August 2015 |

Fatima Ismael, front row third from right, with other participants at the International Fairtrade Cities Conference,Bristol

Fatima Ismael, front row third from right, with other participants at the International Fairtrade Cities Conference,Bristol

We have to continue on this path with fair trade activists and fair trade farmers working hand in hand …many thanks for all the work you have undertaken over so many years for Nicaragua. Cooperatives of small scale farmers exist today thanks to the solidarity you have shown us and to Fairtrade.’ Fatima Ismael, general manager of the Union of Co-operatives (UCA) Soppexcca http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/farmers-and-workers/coffee/soppexcca http://www.soppexcca.org/en/

Fatima visited the UK from 26 June to 5 July as a keynote speaker at the International Fairtrade Cities conference in Bristol http://www.bristolfairtrade.org.uk/ and to speak at other events in London, Cardiff and Bristol.

The following is an edited transcript of presentations by Fatima and Leena Camadoo, banana product manager, Fairtrade Foundation at a public meeting organised by NSC on 27 June. http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/

Fairtrade coffee producers,co-operative and gender equality

‘Since 1999 I have worked for the UCA Soppexcca, an organisation of 650 men and women coffee producers in Jinotega, northern Nicaragua. I have been supporting Soppexcca in marketing, the struggle for gender equality, the improvement of social conditions and the environment, and the development of participative processes that enable human beings to take genuine responsibility for our own lives and behaviour.

Within the organisation we have worked as a team to initiate an integrated model based on the principle of including the whole family unit. This is fundamental to achieving success in terms of equality, social justice and a fair distribution of resources.

Soppexcca has pioneered the definition and application of an institutional gender policy in Nicaragua since 2003. This policy has been developed in the co-operative sector nationally and has increased the participation of women enormously in rural communities where there are Fairtrade certified cooperatives.

Soppexcca was the first co-operative organisation to successfully enter the market, with the ‘Café las Hermanas’ brand, positioning and raising the visibility of women small-scale producers of high quality coffee. ‘

Facing challenges, overcoming threats

‘One of the first challenges of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979 after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship was to put land into the hands of the small farmers and cooperatives.

Soppexcca was set up in a very adverse period, a succession of neoliberal government attempted to reverse the agrarian reform of the Sandinista government (1979 – 1990), return the land without compensation to the former large landowners, and to strangle us economically.

We also had a heavy social burden to bear; the government had practically abandoned the rural sector, roads were in a poor state and we had to repair them ourselves, also schools which should have been a state responsibility were not being built so we had to invest in education. We had little access to markets so building links through Fairtrade was critical to our development.

Also there was very little recognition of the cooperative model at national level, the government considered we were criminals or guerrillas.

Christian Aid (in the UK) http://www.christianaid.org.uk/aboutus/who/index.aspx was the first international organisation to support us by providing funding for small projects enabling us to take the first steps in getting out of a very difficult situation.’

Overcoming poverty, fighting disease, expanding the market

Our work with small farmers to support them in building a sustainable life style is very intensive, and requires continuous effort. Production is a living process, and we face many challenges due to issues such as climate change, the health of our soil and land, and daily challenges of involving younger people in playing a more active role.

‘Our fundamental struggle is to pull ourselves out of poverty.’

This includes increasing our productivity through improving soil quality, using organic fertilisers, training, and education.

It’s a constant struggle to improve production, for instance, three years ago we faced a huge problem with leaf-rust that attacked the coffee bushes. The only way of getting rid of it was to dig up the plants and replace them, a massive task. The impact of leaf-rust was similar to that of an earthquake as forty percent of the production was affected. As well as digging up the bushes we had to clear the soil, replant and it takes five years for the new bushes to start producing coffee.

‘When Nicaragua suffers a hurricane or another such disaster, the world gets to hear about it because people die. Equally, each coffee bush that is destroyed byleaf-rust affects the stomach of a child or family, but we didn’t get the support that we needed from external organisations, or consumers. ‘

In order to provide our members with the necessary finance to replant, Soppexcca has incurred high levels of debt because we had to access long term credit lines.

As well as replanting we also need to develop a climate change early warning plan because coffee is so sensitive to temperature variations. This involves a training programme for farmers, and training technicians in how to monitor early warning programmes.

Not all coffee farmers that we work with produce coffee that is sold through Fairtrade, many more small farmers who want to work through Fairtrade so an expansion of the market is critical.’

Protecting the environment, confronting climate change and transnationals

‘We need to make sure that small farmers are strong and well positioned in a globalised world where transnational companies present a threat because they are so powerful and have so many resources to invest.’

We have to recognise the added value of small producers, especially those organised into cooperatives. With regard to disasters associated with climate change, we work 100% with small farmers producing shade grown coffee that protects the environment. We have an environmental certification that recognises this fact.

This is a sharp contrast to big plantations, producing vast tracts of coffee that is not shade grown, and is therefore harmful to the environment.

As a result of climate change we are already experiencing a rise in temperature which means that farmers in lower areas, below 1,000 metres, are finding it difficult to grow coffee. For this reason we are encouraging these farmers to convert to cocoa production. We are already making and selling chocolate for the internal market and in two to three years we hope to export it.

We have been successful in that ten years ago Fairtrade coffee in Nicaragua counted for one per cent of coffee exports, now it is 20 percent. However, this has resulted in a backlash by international companies, who are making very aggressive attempts to corner the market. This includes calling themselves ‘fair’ businesses and working with conservation schemes.

As certified Fairtrade producers we are audited every year to ensure that we comply with the numerous standards required by our certification. To counteract the aggressive tactics of international companies we need to open a discussion about what constitutes authentic Fairtrade certification.

We believe that Fairtrade is much more than an environmental and social certification, we also work on human rights, gender equality, training young people to be coffee tasters, baristas, training them to make chocolate, in short we consider the whole production chain in a way that it holistic.

For us Fairtrade means that the whole production chain must be fair. One of the steps that we have taken is to get a loan to set up a dry coffee processing plant. This means that we have taken on a work force who are now organised into a cooperative. They are workers rather than farmers because they don’t have land to grow coffee. We are also using a separate premium that we receive to recognise the unpaid work of women and to help them with their organisation.’

Fairtrade DOES make a difference

‘It means that small-scale producers organised into cooperatives have secure access to markets on a longer term basis. If you are a small farmer on your own and sell to the highest bidder, this is a very short term strategy, the buyers may not pay the same next year. One tactic that is used to undermine Fairtrade is for companies to pay an artificially high price to persuade famers to leave cooperatives.

It means access to credit, as a cooperative we get credit on favourable terms; we pass on those low rates of interest to the famers. Whereas banks and micro finance companies charge high rates of interest, when you have a disaster like the one we have just gone through with the leaf-rust, small farmers can’t pay back micro finance companies or the banks, whereas as a coop we restructure their debt, and do everything possible to ensure that they can keep their farms. Microfinance companies and banks have the opposite approach and in some cases will force producers to sell their farms.

It means solidarity, as members of a cooperative, producers make a social investment in their communities by doing voluntary work, also they get training. Small farmers not in coops are much more on their own. At times of family problems, there is an ethic of solidarity and the cooperative will support people.’


Gender equality and the challenges facing women leaders

‘The challenge is that you have to work twice as hard to be recognised.’

Coffee growing is considered as something that men do because it’s a business. The downside of taking on leadership roles is that you have to sacrifice your family life. However, in Nicaragua there have been significant changes in breaking the mould of coffee growing being for men only. At Central America level, Nicaragua is the country with the most women growers, managers in coops and members of boards of directors.

From the beginning we integrated a gender programme into all our work, we were the first cooperative in Nicaragua to have a gender policy, twenty – five other cooperatives around the country have followed suit. We are now looking at the position of women from a young age by working in primary and secondary schools.

We consider that the work on women’s rights is a permanent struggle. Gender isn’t something only confined to our gender policy but integrated into all aspects of our work, for example it is included in our articles of incorporation, and our policies and rules including land ownership and access to credit. From our experience,affirming the position of women in the family results in more positive relationships within the family.

These are life processes that are never over. During emergencies such as a drop in international coffee prices or leaf-rust we immediately go into another mode of action, making sure that people have enough food to eat. The danger is that when crises arise, work on gender is pushed into third or fourth place, we have to make sure we always focus on it and when we get support from international NGOs this must be recognised.

Our progress has been dramatic given the violence we lived through in the 70s and 80s, wars that affected everything and everybody, where the population was subjected to a lot of violence, and where there were very strong gender divisions: women were expected to be submissive, stay at home, bring up children, cook and clean. ‘

Expanding the Fairtrade market, complying with Fairtrade criteria

‘We are looking for more buyers, customers and roasters but on Fairtrade terms.

Eighty percent of the Fairtrade criteria are easy to comply with but others require a lot of investment. This is particular true of setting up and monitoring compliance with environmental criteria which require extra resources to hire technical staff.

Another issue we face is that each farmer must keep records in order to provide evidence of compliance with Fairtrade criteria. http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/faqs However, many of the producers can’t read nor write so we have to invest a lot of time and energy in training.

We also face problems with accounting for the use of the social premium http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/en/what-is-fairtrade/what-fairtrade-does/fairtrade-premium- an extra USD $0.20/lb of green beans that is paid to the producers to invest in their businesses or communities. The Fairtrade auditors would like the premium invested in tangible things that show * instant results such as building new offices or clinics. For us the priority is investing in long term processes to bring about behavioural changes that could take ten years to show results.’


The UK perspective on the challenges Fairtrade faces: Leena Camadoo, Fairtrade Foundation

‘Within the Fairtrade system there is a chain of responsibility: it is the responsibility of the farmers to produce a high quality, ethical product and the responsibility of the coffee industry to make fair sourcing decisions that reflect a fair price for the producers and undertake contract negotiations that are transparent and recognise all the hard work and dedication of the producers.

We live in an age of rampant consumerism, we have so much choice there is a danger of losing sight of the value of what we buy. Fairtrade products are high quality and deserve a fair price. We take so much for granted we are in danger of forgetting the people who have worked so hard to create those products.

This year during Fairtrade Fortnight we asked people to think about products that change lives, and the many people behind those products. As consumers we have responsibility and power to choose to buy things in a way that it ethical, to buy things that have a positive impact on producers, that are produced in a way that is sustainable. We have the power not only to choose what we buy but to put pressure on others, particularly businesses to conduct themselves ethically.

There are several large companies who have certified one product as Fairtrade – we encourage them to use the same Fairtrade principles of paying a fair price and conducting transparent negotiations across their whole business, even with suppliers who are not Fairtrade-certified. Furthermore, in addition to complying with the Fairtrade standards, where possible we encourage all companies to adopt additional forms of best practice, for example . sharing market information with their suppliers and investing back into the producer organisations.

Why do we work with businesses such as Nestle and Tesco? Because this is a space we want to be in, we can’t change the world unless we are working with companies that have the power and influence to affect change.

2015 is the 21st year of Fairtrade mark, when Fairtrade was launched many sceptical companies claimed it couldn’t be done, they argued that no one was going to pay the extra price. We have persuaded these same companies that it can be done and they are now selling some of their key products from Fairtrade sources, buying on Fairtrade terms.

The key questions we should ask ourselves are ‘What will Fairtrade look like in 20 years’ time?’ ‘How is it going to change?’ ‘ What are the challenges affecting producers, how can we as consumers work with the producers to address those challenges so that we have sustainable products for many more years to come?’