Gerardo is a coffee farmer in Llano Bonito, San José, Costa Rica. He is a board member on his village cooperative, which is a member of the Fairtrade consortium COOCAFE. He is married with three children.
In the 1980s, the price of coffee fell so low that it didn't cover the cost of production. Many farmers abandoned their land and went to the cities to find work. Some even left the country. In the mid-90s, I decided to go to America to make money and support my family. After eight years, I had earned enough to buy the family farm so that my parents could retire. But coffee prices were still so low that I was forced to go back to the States for another two years.
The coffee market was so unstable. We did not have a local school, good roads or bridges. Now that our consortium is Fairtrade-certified, prices are stable and we receive a guaranteed premium. We spend the money on education, environmental protection, roads and bridges, and improving the old processing plant. We have sponsored a scholarship programme so that our kids can stay in school.
I believe that my cooperative would be out of business if it wasn't for Fairtrade. Free trade is not responsible trade. When prices go down, farmers produce more and prices drop further. Fairtrade is the way trade should be: fair, responsible and sustainable.
My oldest son is in college, my ten-year-old has already had as much education as me, and my little princess is in her second year at school. With the help of Fairtrade, they might all be able to go to university and get a degree. They won't have to jump the border from Mexico to America, leaving their country for ten years, like me. They can decide what they want in life. I tell them: 'You have two choices. You can be a coffee grower or you can be something else. But learn how to be a coffee grower first, like your father and your grandfather.'
Since Fairtrade, our farms have become more environmentally friendly. Our coffee is now produced in a sustainable way. We have planted trees and reduced the use of pesticides by 80% in 10 years. We used to cut 20 hectares (50 acres) of forest down every year to fuel the ovens at our processing plant. Now we have a new oven which is fuelled by waste products, including coffee skins and the skins of macadamia nuts that we buy from farmers on the other side of Costa Rica. It is a win-win business.
Fairtrade is not a closed system, it is open to everyone. But we need more and more people to buy Fairtrade so that the market grows and other farmers can become certified. Fairtrade can be a tool to help farmers who are not certified. We educate the producers around us about market prices so that buyers have to offer them a competitive rate. It also benefits the wider community. When there was a hurricane, the new road became blocked and the bridge came down. We could afford to open the road and fix the bridge.
When you are shopping, look for the Fairtrade label - you can be sure that the money is going straight to the producers. It will help us, but it will also help people around the world, because the benefits of protecting the environment are for everyone. It is a matter of helping each other.
As a Fairtrade farmer, I finally feel competitive - I feel that I have a tool in my hand. It has given me knowledge, so that I am more able to defend myself and my people. I feel there is a future in front of us, because we can stay in our own country and make a living growing coffee.
Fairtrade is not charity. Just by going shopping, you can make a difference.
Julius Ethang'atha, tea producer, Kenya
Julius is a retired tea producer from Michimikuru, Kenya. He helped to introduce Fairtrade tea production to Kenya five years ago, while working for the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA)
You can't keep all your eggs in the same basket, so we try many things in Kenya. I tried tea. When I was working for the KTDA, buyers asked for Fairtrade. It wasn't easy to become certified, but I saw it was the best way out for our people.
There was a huge impact on the first communities to work with Fairtrade. They were poor communities; they did not have water, dispensaries or schools close to them. The money they got from tea was used for food and clothes, but now they also get a premium that they can use to improve their social living. So far they have set up impressive schools and daycare centres, dispensaries, maternity units, water systems, bridges and roads.
I think criticism of Fairtrade is ridiculous. Yes, Fairtrade only accounts for a small share of the cake, but it is growing. Saying 'Do not buy Fairtrade, because it doesn't help non-Fairtrade producers' is like saying 'Do not eat, because others are hungry'.
Africa does not need aid; we need to participate in a fairer trading system. Teach us how to fish - do not just give us the fish. You see, the farmer receives just 5% of the wealth in tea. When the consumer pays more for Fairtrade tea, this extra money goes to the farmer and improves lives. But if the whole value chain was made fairer, Africa would be lifted out of poverty.
Fairtrade is the right way to shop. It puts a smile on the faces of children in Africa, and it makes their lives bearable.
Makandianfing Keita, cotton farmer, Mali
Makandianfing is a cotton farmer in Dougourakoroni village, Mali, west Africa. The village cotton farmers are members of the UC-CPC de Djidian cooperative, which has been Fairtrade-certified since 2005. Makandianfing married last year
Cotton prices were going down and down until they were below the cost of production. People were demotivated and it was very depressing. But now, we can make a sustainable living. My family can eat and we have better health.
In the past, children had to walk 10km to go to school, so really it was impossible. We have now been able to build a school. At first it had two classrooms. When we had more money and wanted to expand, we challenged the government to match our investment. Now there are five classrooms in total, and every child in the village can go to school.
Pregnant women had no access to healthcare. Many died in childbirth and there were high rates of infant mortality. Now we have built a maternity centre. We have also built a food storage facility so that we can have a year-round food supply, and we have installed a pump for drinking water. We have built a new road, enabling us to travel further than 5km outside of the village without difficulty.
Fairtrade standards called for better agricultural practices. Before, empty pesticide containers would be used as water carriers. In some cases this led to death. Now, we dispose of waste properly. We don't burn bushes any more, we prevent soil erosion and we have effective irrigation.
Fairtrade has really changed the life of my community. I feel as though I have a future, which I didn't before. My wife is pregnant with our first child - this is how optimistic we are!
I encourage everyone to buy more Fairtrade products if they want to make an impact on millions of lives.
5.3. A case study from Fairtrade producers – the cotton industry
While Fairtrade operates for numerous agricultural and food products, including bananas, coffee, and chocolate, in this section we will focus on the cotton industry. As mentioned earlier, Fairtrade is an excellent example of a strategy that aims to address all three pillars of sustainability; economic viability, social equity and environmental protection. This is highlighted in the benefits that Fairtrade’s involvement with the cotton industry has had in a number of countries across the globe. Here will focus on two examples; the cotton industry in India and in Cameroon.
Generally in India, Fairtrade certified cotton farmers can receive up to 20% more in payment for their produce through Fairtrade, than they would at market, which is an important step towards economic viability. Furthermore, precise Fairtrade standards have ensured that the cotton industry in India has had lower environmental impact, no genetic modification, and use of no harmful pesticides – all indicative of environmental protection. The following short film (less than 4 minutes), produced by the Fairtrade Foundation, demonstrates the overall benefits that Fairtrade has had for sustainability in Gujarat, India, with reference to the cotton industry:http://youtu.be/8Ev7YTPIKJU
In 2005 and 2006, cotton farmers in Cameroon received over £420,000 in Fairtrade premium to spend on development projects. The Fairtrade Foundation have produced a short film (9 minutes) that shows how Fairtrade and the premium is changing lives for cotton farmers in Cameroon. There have been a number of improvements, particularly in terms of social equity (one of the three pillars of sustainability); including; an increased motivation for farmers to produce cotton – largely as a result of the precise quality controls enforced by Fairtrade, empowering women, construction of new and clean wells closer to the communities that use them – in some cases, people have had to walk between 5-10km to access clean water in the past, and planning construction of new schools. However, the film also highlights that there are concerns over whether:
1.Nearby non-Fairtrade villages involved with the cotton industry will also be able to become Fairtrade certified – and if they cannot – whether this will result in inter-village tensions
2.Whether current Fairtrade certified producers will be able to maintain their certified status in the future
3.Whether there will always be future demand for cotton, and so a market for all the increasing number of Fairtrade cotton producers in Cameroon.
Please view the video here: http://youtu.be/zufkw6xiskE