‘Our goal is for our children to leave and study, but to return to the land where they were born and carry it forward.’
Climate change is making some of our favourite foods – like coffee, bananas and chocolate – harder and harder to grow.
Combined with deeply unfair trade, communities growing these crops are being pushed to the brink. But through Fairtrade, farmers are finding ways to stand together.
Liliane and Mauro da Silva are a coffee-growing, daughter-raising, future-focused team. As husband and wife they farm land in Brazil’s Sul de Minas region.
It was what Liliane’s father did, and she wants her own teenage girls to be able to carry on the proud family tradition of producing top-quality coffee.
Facing challenges together
However, farming is an ever-more unstable profession.
Farming costs are going up, coffee prices are increasingly volatile and the effects of the climate crisis are deepening. Fellow coffee farmers in other parts of Brazil have recently suffered from unusually heavy frosts, and Liliane and Mauro have noticed that the weather is getting increasingly unpredictable.
‘We live and own property in an area very favourable for coffee, but, even so, we suffer a lot with the climate's setbacks,’ says Liliane.
She and her colleagues in the Fairtrade co-operative are trying out different methods for protecting their harvests.
As well as financial support from Fairtrade, they also receive expertise and information about what’s been successful for coffee farmers elsewhere. They also have a long-term trading relationship with a UK coffee buyer, which they value greatly. As Liliane puts it: ‘We are not in charge of the climate, but we can collaborate a lot with it.’
Taking care of the land
Liliane's neighbour and fellow Fairtrade farmer Maria Paul agrees.
‘When the producers take better care of their crops and of nature itself, it will be more resistant to overcome these... environmental disasters.’
For Luiz, another co-operative member, it’s changed how he thinks about farming: ‘Today I think about taking care of my piece of land... Not just the coffee tree, but the soil. This opened my mind a lot.’
A warrior for women
In the past Liliane has struggled to see the value she can bring both to the farm and their partnership.
When they encountered Fairtrade, she found the encouragement to challenge traditions about male and female roles in farming. Liliane became treasurer on the co-operative board. She says, ‘That, for me, was an empowerment... I think my stay there made other women see that they are also capable.’
Liliane is seen as a role model for women in her community. ‘My daughters' friends, they call me boss. This makes me very proud...'
'This is the Liliane I want to pass on to the world, a warrior who fights for young people.’
Mauro believes the future of farming is about facing challenges as a team. ‘Coffee production, for me, is what I know how to do, I enjoy doing. There have always been setbacks. But together we will learn to overcome these difficulties.’
‘I didn’t know I was punishing the land. Now because of this project I’ve seen the benefits, there are more nutrients in the soil.’
Sadick Abanga farms nine acres of land for cocoa. Now 39, he’s been doing this for 18 years. It’s getting increasingly difficult due to the climate crisis, but he is working with Fairtrade to farm differently.
Part of his farm lies high on a rocky, steep hillside: unfriendly terrain for cocoa plants. Sadick’s working on gradually surrounding it with shade trees.
This is a technique he discovered after joining an agro-forestry project. This offers farmers from Sadick’s co-operative training in methods to adapt to climate change by improving soil, planting for shade and attracting biodiversity.
For example, he’s now using simple solutions to the problem of unpredictable rainfall such as using the liquid inside a banana trunk to irrigate the young cocoa plants.
Working as a team
He joined his Fairtrade co-operative, Kuapa Kokoo Fairtrade Union, eight years ago.
It’s not just the support available to members, and the training to adapt, that Sadick values, it’s the role in decision making too.
‘[We] have officers to give us training and education, bonuses from the Premium. They don’t discriminate, whether you are male or female you have a voice, you are asked to talk.’
The climate and cost of living crises are severe threats to the livelihoods and communities of farmers like Sadick.
But working as part of a team, with Fairtrade behind them, means they are able to access the support they need to keep on farming the cocoa we love.
‘This farm means everything to us, especially for me and my family.’
Albeiro Alfonso Cantillo, or Foncho, as his friends know him, was born into bananas.
He farms land that was passed from generation to generation, from father to son. He’s been learning his trade since he was a child.
Finding the tools
Magdalena in northern Colombia is famous for its bananas. It is also an area affected by Colombia’s many years of struggle with armed conflict. The COVID-19 pandemic also put pressure on farmers as their bananas devalued in price.
But now they are facing a new challenge: the climate.
‘The climate has definitely changed, today we can’t predict the climate as we used to before, like our elders did.’
Foncho however believes that, today with Fairtrade, farmers have ‘the tools to fight the effects of climate change’.
He’s currently part of a programme that he says ‘has brought great benefits to our farms’ and sustained them during the pandemic. It helps them:
- Manage the dreaded Tropical Race 4 and black rust diseases
- Reduce their carbon and water footprint
- Improve their fruit by using bio-fertilisers.
They have reduced the use of chemicals, including herbicides and insecticides. This they say was vital during the pandemic when they couldn’t buy them. They’ve saved money, reduced water use and improved soil health.
Foncho says: ‘Every peso this programme benefits me with has an impact in my family. Today, more than the financial part, the main benefit is to recuperate our soil.’
Raising living standards
Support on environmental sustainability is not all the Fairtrade system has brought to Foncho and his community.
The extra Fairtrade Premium has meant people have been able to improve their standard of living, from fixing leaky roofs to providing opportunities for the next generation.
The stability of the Fairtrade Minimum Price helped them manage through the pandemic, and beyond. ‘Those two dollars we get above the cost of each box of bananas make a difference for us, so we could be able to sustain ourselves as a family and to save.’
Foncho credits Fairtrade with advancing his community’s education. His own children were educated through scholarships funded by the Fairtrade Premium, and after his daughter got a good education she brought these skills back to the community.
As Foncho says: ‘Thank God and thanks to the Premium, my oldest daughter is a public accountant and she’s now working with us. That means her knowledge was brought back to the organisation.’
- Authors: Susannah Henty and Jenny Tither
- Editors: Katie Allen and Louise Curry
- Photography: Brazil: Rodrigo Santus/ Matthew Algie; Ghana: Chris Terry; Colombia: Nicolás Becerra/Fairtrade Foundation.