By Barney Smyth
Supporting Global Farmers – Sustainability Breakfast – September 2020
As Martin Luther King said back in 1967, ‘before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you have depended on more than half the world’. This phrase is still so relevant today. Unconsciously, we may have already consumed some fresh fruit from Taiwan, tea from Kenya, coffee from Peru, bananas from Colombia, or sugar from Belize. We may be wearing cotton from India or have flowers in our homes from Ethiopia. The common connection between each of these is that they are grown by producers all around the world.
However, sourcing internationally traded products presents potential challenges. Be that low market prices, yields affected by climate change or risk of child labour to name but a few. Combined with Covid-19, we are seeing the vulnerabilities of supply chains being exposed. Therefore, it’s time we shone the spotlight on the challenges but more importantly, how best we can support global farmers.
At this month’s Sustainability Breakfast event, we heard from Barney Smyth (Fairtrade Foundation) and James Hu (Lyfegreen), who both provided different perspectives, but both ultimately provided a way to gain transparency on your supply chain, build relationships with your producer partners and understand impact.
Using certification as a means of assurance
Certification bodies, such as Fairtrade, provide an independent (third-party) assurance that rigorous standards have been met by all actors along the supply chain (from producer through to supplier). Another important element that Fairtrade provides is a guaranteed Fairtrade Minimum Price (a safety net in case the market price crashes) and the Fairtrade Premium (an additional sum of money for Fairtrade producer groups to invest as they see fit). Through sourcing on Fairtrade terms, it creates a culture of empowerment across the (1.6 million) Fairtrade producers worldwide, who are able to lift themselves out of poverty, strengthen their business, and address some of the challenges in the sector.
The Fairtrade Minimum Price provides a crucial safety net for farmers, as the coffee market price crashes
Certification provides a degree of accountability
Organic certification promotes an integrated production process that strives for sustainability, soil fertility and biodiversity whilst prohibiting (or limiting) synthetic inputs. James Hu explained that it is important we remain mindful of the plethora of certifiers that exist (organic and otherwise). As a result of a relatively crowded market, there is a huge variance in credibility and standards from country to country. Whilst it was regarded as a great first step in order to provide accountability, it is not necessarily the full picture or the sole way to responsibly sourced sustainable, organic products. As such, we should not dismiss the idea of also conducting our own due diligence.
The importance of strong direct relationships with producer partners
It was also recognised that there are some more qualitative areas and relationships with producer partners that cannot be captured in a label. Many fruit farmers in Taiwan do not opt for certification due to the cost and time requirements, but because of the scale of their operations, they are able to uphold strong direct relationships with customers, who have a suitable understanding of the practices in place.
Smallholder producer groups in Taiwan working in partnership with Lyfegreen