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Is buying Fairtrade products a good idea given concerns on climate emergency?

Smallholder producers in conventional world trade suffer from volatility of prices and unfair trading practices. On top of this, they are increasingly on the front line of climate disaster, and the marginalised are often hit hardest by problems they did not cause. They contribute to global food security and to their national economies, yet increasingly farmers are now suffering through increasing crop failures, water shortages and natural disasters and this in turn is jeopardising the future of agricultural and artisanal supply chains. The Fairtrade movement promotes a fairer model of trade, which encourages sustainable production and consumption. A recent study on coffee and climate disaster by Le BASIC has shown that fair trading practices improve producers’ livelihoods by ensuring they receive a higher share of value created in the supply chain, helping to significantly mitigate environmental and societal costs borne by producer communities in the Global South. Trade justice is therefore a vital step towards achieving climate justice; prioritising the needs of small-scale farmers and taking into account their increased vulnerabilities. However, Fairtrade alone cannot meet the scale of the challenges posed by climate emergencies and the inequality in value chains; the current global economic system urgently needs to be transformed.

Can buying Fairtrade products help to tackle climate disaster?

Fairtrade mainly certifies small-scale farmers who sign up to rigorous standards, which include environmental criteria such as, protecting the natural environment, banning the use of harmful pesticides, minimising the use of energy, especially from non-renewable sources, and making environmental protection part of farm management. Fairtrade also organises training for farmers so they can learn how to grow in harmony with the local environment and avoid creating monocultures. Many producers also invest their Fairtrade Premium – the extra money they get for selling on Fairtrade terms – in various projects aimed at restoring natural areas or reforestation. Fairtrade is a choice for nature, and a way of farming that safeguards both humans and the environment. By choosing Fairtrade, shoppers in the UK are ensuring that farmers and workers receive a Fairtrade Premium to invest in economic, social and environmental products of their own choice. It means they can implement a range of environmental protection programmes which contribute to the range of solutions needed to mitigate against the effects of climate catastrophes and ultimately benefit us all.  To give two examples, tea workers in India have invested some of their Fairtrade Premium into replacing the traditional wood-burning heating with a solar-panelled system. Coffee farmers in Costa Rica have used the Premium to replant trees to prevent soil erosion and have invested in environmentally friendly ovens, fuelled by recycled coffee hulls and the dried shells of macadamia nuts. This means that they no longer need to cut forest trees and so can preserve the rainforest and the oxygen they produce. By choosing Fairtrade products, you can help farmers and workers preserve their own environment and allow them to have a positive social benefit in their community. Climate disasters hit marginalised farmers in developing countries hardest. This includes people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture. Through the Fairtrade Premium farmers and workers have a little extra to use when harvests fail, or if they need to change to growing a different crop if the climate becomes unsuitable for the way they currently farm. The International Fair Trade Movement called on the Parties of the UNFCCC at COP24 to recognise fair trading policies and practices as an important component of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Read their joint Policy Paper, 'Trade Justice: A key component of building smallholder farmers’ climate resilience', which outlines five concrete steps needed to urgently transform the global economic system so that it works for people and planet: transparency & binding regulation; financial support; farmer-focused trainings and technical expertise; investment into agronomical research; and tax justice.

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