The key workers
beyond our borders
Saturday 9 May is World Fair Trade Day, a moment to celebrate the role that fair trade plays in the fight against poverty across the globe. In the face of a global crisis, farmers and workers around the world are playing a vital but often forgotten role.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a large, unwelcome, and frightening moment in our collective global consciousness. Over the last couple of months here in the UK we have seen that translate into a fear of food shortages, prompting people to panic buy and resulting in empty supermarket shelves, strained retailers and increasing concern about access to food for the most vulnerable in our communities.
Fifty percent of the food we buy in our supermarkets comes from abroad, with between ten and fifteen percent from developing countries, grown by smallholder farmers and farm workers, supplying global food and clothing supply chains. They are working hard to keep our shelves stocked and supply chains going despite the increasing challenges they face to bring us our favorite kitchen staples from tea and coffee to sugar and bananas.
Right now, COVID-19 is laying bare the precariousness of people in all societies, but farmers and workers in the global south, who were already struggling to get by, are among the world’s poorest people. They are often living in communities with weak or non-existent safety nets, inadequate health care, water and sanitation, and at risk of hunger and malnutrition. According to the latest UN University forecasts, more than half a billion people could be pushed deeper into poverty by the effects of the pandemic.
Working with over 1.7 million farmers and workers, Fairtrade is already seeing the impact of COVID-19 unfold in these communities on a daily basis. For many, coronavirus has not yet fully taken hold, but their ability to protect themselves is already being affected by the seismic shocks reverberating along our global supply chains.
In Africa, flower farms are exporting less than a third of their daily production to Europe, which makes up 70 percent of their export market. Many workers have already been laid off or are on compulsory leave, and it’s a story repeated across the region’s other main flower growing countries, including Uganda and Ethiopia. Flower workers don't always earn enough money to have savings and many now face the reality of not having enough money to feed their families.
Meanwhile, tea workers felt the impact of the virus early as the price of tea plunged by 40 percent due to import restrictions imposed by some of the world's biggest buyers, devastating an already fragile industry.
But, there is also something else happening. Amid a desperate situation, communities across the world are coming together and uniting to find ways of supporting one another.
In the UK we have seen thousands of people volunteer for the NHS scheme to support self isolating members of our communities.
In Fairtrade producer networks, farmers and workers are also finding ways to support their communities and keep them safe. We are seeing the powerful role that Fairtrade plays in enabling the resilience and support of those who feel far away but are actually much closer than we think. Being part of Fairtrade already enables Fairtrade producers to choose for themselves how best to support the aspirations and priorities of their communities.
Now, in the shadow of a crisis, and with crucial support from Fairtrade, these farmers and workers are responding with courage, hope, and togetherness.
This World Fair Trade Day, we want you to join us in thanking the key workers beyond our borders who bring us our bananas, our coffee, our chocolate and much more and let them know that we will stand beside them and their communities now and in the future.
Children across the UK have already been sharing their thanks this week by designing their own thank you cards. Head here for more information if you want to design one too.
Read on to find out how Fairtrade producers are already coming together to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in their communities...
Strength in numbers
For over 25 years, Fairtrade has been gradually empowering and supporting producers to organise themselves into farmer cooperatives and worker committees, helping them to improve their negotiating position within the supply chain. This has enabled them to work together as owners and members of their own businesses, to gain a foothold in challenging global markets and negotiate a higher price for their products. But, this strength in numbers has other benefits. It also allows its members better access to shared networks of knowledge, training and finance. In the current crisis, this protection and knowledge sharing is having profound new benefits.
The tea sector has been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Impacts were felt early, and are now deepening with cancellation of orders and shipping contracts, and significant delays to shipments worldwide. Some of the major tea buying auctions have been suspended or postponed.
When the government of India announced lock down measures it was almost the start of the tea plucking season in Assam. While the local government took measures to protect the health of people working on the region's 685 tea estates, those that are part of Fairtrade have been able to go further. Fairtrade certified estates have been training their members to raise awareness on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Social distancing and reporting sickness are actively promoted and hygiene measures are being put into practice including installing hand washing stations and distributing soap to their workers. Some of the estates are also reaching out to other educational and religious institutions in their communities to join forces and raise awareness more widely.
Cocoa producers from the ACOPAGRO co-operative, which has around 1,800 members, have been able to ensure the continued purchase of their cocoa by buyers by supporting their members to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
The state of emergency, imposed by the Peruvian government since mid-March, does not allow the co-operative's technicians to travel and train all farmers in the social distancing protocols. So, by taking photographs in their closest cocoa collection centre and sending them by phone across the co-operative's network, they have been able to share this important information and keep business running for all their members.
The co-operative is also providing information to its members on how to access economic support online that is being offered by the government, and ensuring they receive the special bonus that the Ministry of Agriculture plans to give to farmers.
Farmers are continuing to harvest sugarcane, being careful to follow strict social distancing and hygiene precautions. Sugar supports the livelihoods of more than 40,000 people in the country, and their communities. All three sugarcane farmer co-operatives in Belize are Fairtrade certified, covering around 5,400 farmer members.
The co-operatives send their harvest to a sugarcane processing mill owned by Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI), a Fairtrade certified trader.
BSI has started distributing locally made face masks to cane cutters, truck drivers, farmers, and harvesting group leaders by securing materials for the creation of 6,000 facemasks and providing them to women's empowerment groups linked to the cane farmer associations. The organisational structure was essential to get this done quickly and BSI paid the women for their time. The women made the masks to approved guidelines for non-medical masks to ensure they will be effective at trapping droplets from speaking, coughing and sneezing. Distribution of these fabric face masks across the network has already started and each person will receive a packet containing two masks with a user guide inside.
One of Fairtrade's responses to the pandemic has been to facilitate flexible use of Fairtrade Premium income, to allow farmer
co-operatives to buy protective equipment, or take all the Premium as a cash payment to address their immediate daily needs. In these uncertain times, the safety net of Fairtrade’s Minimum Price and extra money from the Premium are more important than ever as global trade goes through previously unimaginable stresses.
The current impact on the coffee sector varies depending on the origin country’s harvest season, but if movement restrictions continue and farmers and workers are unable to reach coffee farms, coffee production could become very challenging.
The current restriction of movement in Uganda has left some community members unable to meet their daily nutritional needs in a region where many already live hand to mouth. In recent weeks, the Fairtrade certified Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union Limited has stepped in to support initial government aid for the most vulnerable including the elderly, unwell and informal workers who rely on their day-today earnings.
The co-op is located in Kasese, the area’s mountainous landscape means that small convenience shops are non-existent and community members usually travel to larger trading centres, something that is no longer possible following a ban on public transport in the country. Members of this Fairtrade coffee co-operative have used their Fairtrade Premium funds to donate sugar, maize flour, cooking oil, beans and soap to the local government taskforce. 'We want to be part of the people supporting those in need' said Josinta Kabugho, the co-operative’s General Manager.
They have also set aside funds for distribution as cash donations among staff and workers. The money will be used to buy essential items for their households and protective equipment including face masks and gloves.
Brazil has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Latin America, but solidarity and hope can still be found in local communities. The Fairtrade certified coffee cooperative CAFESUL, has used their Fairtrade Premium to provide cleaning supplies, masks, money and coffee to a local elderly home.
Renato Theodoro, president of CAFESUL said: 'The Health Ministry is very concerned about the elderly and, here in Muqui, we have a home for some of them... our board of directors met and decided to use part of the Fairtrade Premium for social actions in the communities we work in.'
In addition to this donation, the co-operative has also distributed kits among their members containing cleaning products, protective masks made by CAFESUL women’s group, and a manual prepared by the Secretary of Agriculture with recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus.
In West Africa
The impact of COVID-19 on cocoa farmers is beginning to be felt throughout West Africa, with one of the main concerns being the falling price of cocoa, by around 25 percent. Ghana’s cocoa revenue is expected to receive a shortfall of $1 billion, which will affect the entire sector. As with other commodities, the transport and export of cocoa is likely to become increasingly challenging due to border closures. There is a growing concern about the health risk for cocoa farming communities, who have a high rate of pre-existing health conditions resulting from poverty and poor nutrition as well as a lack of adequate healthcare.
In Ghana, Asunafo North Farmers Union, which has 8,108 members spread across 67 communities, has embarked on a series of efforts to protect their communities. They have used their Fairtrade Premium to donate cash and sanitary items to the local municipal offices to be distributed to local communities around Asunafo as well as supplying 600 bottles of locally produced liquid soap for hand washing to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Since 2018, the Union have also sponsored a local radio talk show, to educate farmers on good agricultural practices, and allow them to call in with questions. The radio show now focuses on educating farmers on preventative measures against the virus and provides information on helplines to contact. The radio station reaches around 25,000 listeners across the area.
Fairtrade certified producer organisations in Côte d’Ivoire are also supporting the fight against COVID-19 by providing their members with personal protective equipment and sanitary items as well as helping to create public awareness in their communities. The SCJPAB cooperative in Bangolo has used Premium funds to distribute soaps, hand gels, bleach and masks to its members in more than 10 communities, as well as organising virus awareness sessions for its members who in turn have passed on the knowledge to the whole 1,465 members of the cooperative. Meanwhile, the ECAMOM cooperative located in Méagui and COOP-CA ABO in Soubré have used their Fairtrade Premium to create educational posters for distribution to their members as well as demonstrations on good hand washing.
While the banana sector has so far been relatively unaffected by the outbreak of COVID-19, increased lockdown measures in origin countries and logistics/transport challenges mean that banana communities are already feeling the impacts.
Sixteen Fairtrade certified banana co-operatives in Colombia joined forces and contributed 55,000 dollars from Fairtrade Premium funds to install a COVID-19 diagnostic centre in the Uraba region, where around 700,000 people live in 11 municipalities and where the main economic activity is banana production.
Currently, the results of tests carried out on people suspected of having COVID-19 in Uraba take up to four or five days to reach the patients because the samples are sent to laboratories in Medellin, a city that is 500 kilometres away. Since air transportation has been suspended throughout the country, the samples must travel to Medellin by land.
'Having the results of the tests faster can help us detect cases in the region faster, helping us to limit the virus from spreading, so people can be confined and protected', explained Carlos Trujillo, plantation manager of Grupo Agrosiete.
The co-operatives have also funded equipment for intensive care units and the purchase of respirators for medical institutions in the Uraba region as well as donating bananas, pineapples and other food supplies to vulnerable community members.
This pandemic has shown us that we are reliant on each other more than ever. We are seeing the power and importance of community coming thorough everywhere in the world in the most challenging times.
As we celebrate these amazing farmers and workers around the world this World Fair Trade Day, a big thanks to you as well! So many of the actions Fairtrade farmers and workers are taking right now to protect themselves and their communities is made possible by people like you choosing Fairtrade.
The challenge that developing countries face now is perhaps bigger than ever before. Leaders of Fairtrade organisations across the world have sent a letter to the leaders of the G20 calling for an effective coordinated response to the immediate impacts of COVID-19 on developing country farmers and workers.
The letter sets out key areas where immediate action is needed including the protection of jobs and livelihoods , the provision of personal protective equipment, urgent healthcare strengthening and wider economic measures to support developing countries at this time.
But the challenges faced by these communities will continue beyond this current crisis unless we also work together to build a new normal, one that supports global food supply chains to become more sustainable and climate resilient into the future.
Supporting Fairtrade now will be more vital than ever before, as global trade continues to change in ways we could only have imagined just a few months ago.
Authors: Sarah Brazier, Chrysi Dimaki
Editors: Jenny Tither, Heather Nicholson
Photography: Chris Terry, David Macharia, Eduardo Martino, Francesco John Mpambe Jnr, Kate Fishpool, Ola Höiden, Sean Hawkey
For more information head to fairtrade.org.uk