By Naume Guveya
There are about 815 million hungry people in the world. Half of all the households most affected by hunger belong to farmers.
Ironically, these farmers operate a significant number of the half a billion farms that are critical to feeding the world.
The farmers end up hungry because they often do the difficult work for very little pay. People in the food production and distribution cycle undervalue their work. In many cases, the farmers find themselves unable to afford healthy and nutritious food.
For example, the value if the cocoa and chocolate market is currently around $43 billion. What’s more, the market value forecast to reach $67.22 billion by 2025. This valuation is in stark contrast to how much the cocoa farmers in West Africa get.
West Africa is the world’s largest cocoa producer but on average, get a measly wage of $0.78. This wage is a mere 31% of the living income. The poor wages lead to serious seasonal hunger problems for farmers. Many of them have no guarantee of food security for at least several months every year between harvests.
It’s easy to assume that there are other reasons for the hunger besides the low pay. Maybe failed harvests, floods, or drought. After all, these people are farmers and producing food shouldn’t be very hard for them, right?
What Is The Real Problem?
The farmers’ plight is, to a large extent, attributable to the way the global food system works. The global food system is an interaction of farmers, businesses, and consumers. It essentially affects how food is traded.
The underpayment of farmers is a big component of the global food system. Couple the low wages with volatile produce prices and unfair trade rules and the farmers simply don’t have enough to feed their families all year round. The hunger issue is also true for farmers who produce luxuries such as exotic fruits, sugar, and coffee. These luxuries are produced for consumers in developed economies who pay a premium for the produce. But the farmers get meagre wages.
The injustices are so entrenched in the current global food system; demanding a lot from these smallholder farmers and giving back very little. It’s time to challenge the system.
Enter Fairtrade and Sustainable Food Systems
Fairtrade is trading between producers (the farmers and workers) in developing countries and companies in developed countries. It addresses the injustices of conventional trade and gives producers more control over their lives. This is done by setting environmental and socio-economic standards for both producers and the companies they work with. Fairtrade is about:
- Addressing a system that discriminates against the poorest and weakest producers. For instance, a company working with producers from a specific community under the Fairtrade Foundation has to pay a Fairtrade Premium. This premium is used to invest in community projects of the community’s choice.
- Paying fair prices to producers and providing a stable income that can improve their lives.
- Providing decent working conditions and fair terms of trade that protect the producers’ rights.
- Protecting the environment and promoting local sustainability.
The Fairtrade system provides a much-needed buffer for smallholder farmers, helping to address the big issue of hunger.
Connecting to Food Systems
Fair trade is a game changer for farmers who have been both poverty- and hunger-stricken for long. It curbs volatility, provides fair pay, protects farmers, and allows them to achieve food security throughout the year. This means that when you buy fair trade products, you are helping a farmer out there lead a better life and afford to eat.
The Need For An All-inclusive System
Fair trade is a step in the right direction but it doesn’t cover all farmers. There is still a lot to do before all farmers get to benefit from the positive impact of fair trade. A lot more scrutiny and work is required.
For instance, big food companies such as Sainsbury’s and Cadbury are leaving independent fair trade certification schemes. They are moving into self-regulation. This can lead to less accountability from the big brands. Consequently, communities may have less autonomy in making their own decisions.
As such, it’s important to push for transparency and accountability regardless of brands setting up their own fair trade certification schemes. We need to keep the pressure on business leaders and policymakers. By doing this, we’ll ensure that fair trade becomes the norm. Consumers will also become aware of fair trade at the point of purchase.
Surely, all food producers should be treated well. They should be compensated fairly. Above all, they should have access to food like the people they produce the food for.