Your daily coffee fix may be doing way more good than you know

By AG STAFF 25 July 2022
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Farmers in Timor-Leste, our near neighbour, are reaping the benefits of their coffee production and, with the help of Fairtrade certification, are assisting the planet too. PLUS, WIN a $1000 Macpac gift card.

In the largely mountainous country of Timor-Leste, about 30 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line (AU$1.30 per day). The vast majority of women (70 per cent) deliver their babies at home without any skilled help or healthcare after the birth, and infant mortality rates are high.  

It’s hard to fathom given the close proximity to Australia – Timor-Leste lies just 900km to the north of Darwin. But the people of this country are nothing if not resourceful.

For example, in 1999 – in the wake of the destruction that was left behind after the country gained independence from Indonesia – an organisation known as Cooperativa Café Timor (CCT) was founded. Composed of farmers, its remit was to successfully market coffee grown by villagers.

To say it was a success is an understatement – today the organisation has more than 19,600 members from 16 base cooperatives and 494 small-scale farmer groups.

In 2001, CCT obtained Fairtrade certification and with additional revenue generated from Fairtrade sales, the co-op has implemented: 

  • A healthcare program that includes seven stationery health clinics and 26 mobile health clinics, which provide weekly health services for communities in remote areas. Collectively the clinics see an average of 18,000 patients per month and services are provided free of charge to all co-op members. 
  • A business skills development program that provides members with training in bookkeeping, management, English language and computer skills. 
  • A wholesale purchasing co-op that benefits the local community by providing consumer goods at reasonable prices to small retail outlets in rural areas.

CCT also uses its Fairtrade Premium* to run and maintain the industrial equipment and machinery needed to ensure that coffee quality and supply is uninterrupted.

Case in point is an industrial coffee pulper. While it’s older technology from India, the simplicity suits the needs of CCT. It uses a rough disc to pulp the coffee and then water is added so that the cherries can be sorted by density. Once sorted, the beans are fermented for 28 hours, washed and then dried in large fields where they are covered in tarps (above left) overnight to protect them from the moisture of the night air. While the beans are drying in the fields during the day, they’re stirred every 1–2 hours so that the moisture content is reduced to 11 per cent, the required level for premium coffee. The harvest season generates huge employment opportunities for people in the area, which also helps to address some of the ongoing poverty issues.

Top 7 things you need to know about Fairtrade

  1. What is Fairtrade?
    Fairtrade changes the way trade works through better prices, decent working conditions and a fairer deal for farmers and workers in developing countries.

    But buying Fairtrade products doesn’t just mean that farmers and workers who produce an item were paid properly. Fairtrade also addresses gender equality, environmental protection and transparent supply chains – it’s about changing the way trade works.
  2. How Fairtrade makes a difference
    The Fairtrade journey starts with farmers and workers in developing countries who form cooperatives or groups. Around 80 per cent of the world’s farmers have small-holdings of less than 2.5 acres so working together makes them stronger.

    If the cooperative decide they want to become Fairtrade certified, they go through a process where they agree to meet a range of standards around governance, working conditions, environmental management and gender equality. Fairtrade supports them to meet these standards.    

    Once certified, the cooperative/producer organisation can trade all over the world but anyone buying Fairtrade products must agree to pay (at least) the Fairtrade Minimum Price. This price is set by Fairtrade based on what the farmers need to cover their costs of production and is often much higher than the market price.     

    In addition to this minimum price, the producers also receive another sum of money called the *Fairtrade Premium. This money doesn’t go directly to individual farmers but instead goes to the cooperative and the whole community decides together how that money should be spent. This includes projects like wells for drinking water, hospitals and farming equipment.      

    Fairtrade continues to work with producers after they are certified to encourage product improvement and development as well as ongoing support in areas of fair pay, gender equality and sustainability.   
Fairtrade farmers in Papua New Guinea.

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand (ANZ) works directly with local businesses who sell Fairtrade products, and to increase awareness of Fairtrade in both Australia and New Zealand. It also works with farmers in the region, especially Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Fiji.     

The CEO of Fairtrade ANZ, Molly Harriss Olson, says that Fairtrade works to support farmers and address needs of consumers across the world.  

“While shoppers have a range of ethical concerns, we know that they care most about protecting children and their families” Molly says. “We also know that they are aware that Fairtrade has the best systems in place to do this, which is one of the reasons the Fairtrade mark is the most widely trusted ethical label in the world.    

“We are proud that Fairtrade has the most robust and heavily audited processes to ensure that our company’s supply chains are free of forced labour including slave and child labour. What’s more, our approach to addressing the root cause of slavery – endemic poverty and unfair trading conditions – is significantly more comprehensive than any other ethical label.” 

3. Why is it so important?
Farmers in developing countries are some of the most marginalised people in the world, despite producing food that most people consume every day. Plus, they are the people being most affected by climate change even though they’re the least responsible for causing it. The Fairtrade system addresses this inequity. “We believe that most consumers want to be part of the solution, not the problem,” Molly says. “Buying Fairtrade is one way they can do that.  

Ultimately, if more people support Fairtrade products like chocolate, coffee and cotton then whole communities benefit. We’re here to tell you that small decisions can make a big difference.

“My hopes are that more and more people will recognise the Fairtrade mark and reward the businesses who chose to be part of the most robust trade system in the world. We all want to see trade transformed so that consumer choices are truly benefitting people and the planet.”      

4. How do you know if something really is Fairtrade?
It’s as simple as looking for the Fairtrade mark, which depicts a farmer waving, on the packaging of coffee, tea, chocolate and on the labels of cotton products. If it doesn’t have that mark, then it’s not Fairtrade, even if other messaging suggests it’s sustainable. 

5. What process does a brand have to go through to be awarded a Fairtrade label? 
Brands must work with Fairtrade to have every part of their supply chain independently audited. This ensures every linkage is fair, i.e. for coffee, farmers need to be treated fairly as do the people hulling, drying, packing, transporting and roasting it. And of course, the product must, in the first instance, be bought from Fairtrade-certified farmers under Fairtrade terms, which includes paying the minimum price and premium.

6. What does it mean if a product is not Fairtrade?
In this instance you can’t be sure that the farmers or workers were paid fairly for their produce. “You also don’t know if everyone in the supply chain was treated fairly and that’s something that we don’t think about enough,” Molly says. “It’s important because we know, for example, that in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, where 60 per cent of the world’s cocoa is produced, there are around 1.5 million children working in slavery.” 

And, while there are a number of ethical labels, there are actually some key differences between them and Fairtrade:

  1. Fairtrade has been around longer and people (producers and consumers) know and trust it. “We pioneered producer-focused standards and programmes in 1997, way before most of the other labels existed. Because of this, our system is different – every decision we take is through the lens of producer ownership and benefits. We are on the side of farmers.”   
  2. Fairtrade is 50 per cent owned by farmers and workers themselves, giving them an equal say in the system’s decision making. It is also the only global sustainability standard that is equally owned and managed by producers, for producers. “We recognise that poverty is one of the key factors that lead to complex issues such as child labour and other social compliance violations. If poverty is not addressed, these issues will continue.   
  3. Fairtrade is the only label that has a minimum price for every product it deals with and has a focus on getting that price as close to a living wage as possible. “We also pay the highest premiums and encourage good governance and democracy through the implementation of that premium.”    
Women in Africa learning how to deal with changing environmental concerns via the Fairtrade Climate Academy.

7. How do Fairtrade and climate intersect? 
The climate crisis is an immediate and ever-increasing threat to the livelihoods of farmers and workers across the world, from deforestation and changing weather patterns to rising temperatures, water scarcity and contamination.

Despite contributing the least to the climate crisis, smallholders in developing countries are disproportionately affected and have fewer resources to adapt to changes in climate and other stresses. With increasingly negative effects on land and agricultural production, farmers have told us that climate change is their biggest challenge right now. 

Fairtrade has always believed that there is no climate justice without trade justice. Farmers and workers are on the front line of the climate emergency.

“Choosing Fairtrade supports biodiversity, environmentally friendly farming and helps farmers adapt to and mitigate against the effects of climate change,” says Molly.    

Fairtrade has introduced a Climate Academy, the concept of which is to help Fairtrade farmers deal with the changing environment has been rolled out in Africa and the Asia Pacific. 

This article is brought to you by Fairtrade ANZ.

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