Why you should be part of Fairtrade

Sandra Uwera

Fairtrade International, Global Chief Executive Officer Sandra Uwera in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Sammy Waweru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Fairtrade producers allocate resources towards enhancing climate resilience and adaptation measures.
  • National Fairtrade Organisations foster strong commercial relationships with brands recognised at a worldwide level.

Fairtrade International is an organisation that connects coffee, flower, fruit and vegetable farmers to foreign markets.

Owned by more than 1.8 million farmers and workers, it enables them to build strong communities and have control over their future.

Fairtrade Chief Executive Officer Sandra Uwera spoke to Seeds of Gold on crops that are in demand.

Since Fairtrade established a presence in Kenya and with the interaction with farmers and key players, has there been any growth?

Fairtrade established its presence in Kenya as the Africa and the Middle East Secretariat in 2005. It has experienced tremendous growth since then, boasting nearly 1.4 million farmers and workers as members participating in more than 15 value chains across 29 countries.

Kenya has approximately 450,000 members engaged in tea, coffee and flower value chains.

Fairtrade-certified producers have exported their products to key markets like Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Finland and the Netherlands. 

The export has translated into millions of euros in Fairtrade premiums and additional earnings dedicated to community reinvestment.

In 2021 alone, Fairtrade-certified producers in Kenya earned more than €6 million, marking an increase from the previous year and highlighting recovery post-Covid-19 pandemic.

Embracing sustainable agricultural practices under Fairtrade standards has led to substantial growth in production for these farmers.

Coffee yields have surged by 15 per cent, resulting in a nearly 50 per cent increase in Fairtrade incomes compared to 2019. This impressive recovery post-Covid is mirrored in the growth of Fairtrade-certified flower producers locally.

These transformations underscore the positive impact of the Fairtrade movement on the lives of producers and their communities.

What is your target market? Are there success stories?

Fairtrade strategically targets traditional and emerging markets to meet the increasing demand for ethically-sourced products. Traditionally, produce like tea, coffee and flowers from Kenya have primarily catered to consumers in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

In several of these markets, Fairtrade has noticed a significant increase in commitment from diverse buyers who are progressively transitioning select retail categories to 100 per cent Fairtrade offerings. 

An exemplary illustration of this commitment is the Co-op, one of the UK’s largest retailers. Co-op distinguishes itself as a staunch supporter of Fairtrade, sourcing 100 per cent of its own-label tea, among other products, on Fairtrade terms, with a substantial chunk originating from Kenya.

A portion of the earnings generated is reinvested in the communities through social impact projects like schools, hospitals, roads and the initiation of income diversification projects, thereby expanding revenue streams.

Fairtrade producers allocate resources towards enhancing climate resilience and adaptation measures.

In its pursuit of growth, Fairtrade is directing efforts towards expanding into the South-to-South markets. Africa has witnessed a notable increase in responsible consumption and a growing demand for ethically produced products over time.

For sustainability and in light of challenges, are you able to source the same farm products consistently?

Similar to other producers around the world, Fairtrade-certified producers face challenges, notably the impacts of climate change and the unpredictability of prices.

Global warming has led to reduced yields due to irregular rainfall, increased pest and disease pressures and disruptions in traditional seasons, making effective production planning challenging.

Additionally, volatile market prices often result in farmers earning less than the cost of sustainable production, threatening the viability of their businesses and prompting some to consider trying something else.

Fairtrade acknowledges these challenges. We are dedicated to working with producers to address them. Our investments in climate-smart agriculture and resilience-building initiatives aim to mitigate the effects of climate change on supply chains.

You have been encouraging farmers to add value to their produce. What are the opportunities in these processed products?

Value addition plays a crucial role in Fairtrade’s strategy for promoting sustainable agriculture. Fairtrade encourages producers to explore opportunities in creating value-added products, such as Fairtrade-certified chocolate, coffee blend, and tea.

By enhancing the value of their produce, farmers can tap into higher-value markets, ultimately increasing their income. 

Research shows that tea producers, for example, can realise up to 40 per cent more by adding value to their tea through blending, flavours and packaging for retail.

African economies traditionally rely heavily on commodity production and exports, with limited value addition. The pandemic prompted a collective realisation across the continent about the need for robust and resilient economies.

Fairtrade remains committed to supporting producers in value addition and invites collaboration from government agencies, institutions facilitating market access for value-added products and funding partners to pursue this objective.

What is the range of farm products that you trade in international markets? Which ones tend to command favourable prices?

There is a wide array of Fairtrade products available at global level. In fact, there are more than 37, 000 products available in 70 countries. Consumers often support Fairtrade products as a means of promoting social and environmental responsibility in the global supply chain. 

Our top products are coffee, bananas, cocoa, flowers, tea, sugar and cotton. However, global markets value products differently, with some – like coffee – being very volatile. This is why we stand firmly by our Fairtrade minimum price, which acts as a safety net.

What standards and requirements have you set for farmers to gain from your marketing networks?

Our producer networks work with national and marketing Fairtrade Organisations across the world. 

National Fairtrade Organisations foster strong commercial relationships with brands recognised at a worldwide level. The Fairtrade mark on final products immediately helps consumers recognise us and make choices accordingly.

Products bearing these marks meet the internationally agreed social, environmental and economic Fairtrade standards.

At a recent summit in Nairobi, you recognised some of your global customers for their impact. Explain the importance of this recognition?

Sixteen firms from around the world were nominated for the Fairtrade Global Awards, recognising their efforts in living income, wages, climate action among others.

Eight winners and runners-up were selected from Germany, Canada, Sri Lanka, Switzerland and other countries.

The Fairtrade Global Awards serve as a platform to acknowledge and pay tribute to the steadfast commitment and inventive spirit displayed by Fairtrade licensees and traders on an international scale.

Open to existing licensees and traders, these awards aim to recognise what truly matters – the profound impacts and positive innovations brought to the world of social justice through trade.

With these awards, there is an aspiration to bring Fairtrade farmers and employees closer to the businesses that source from them, celebrating the positive and sustainable impact of these relationships.