ensuring we create significant impact for workers and farmers

Damiao, farm worker in Fair Trade pilot farm in Brazil, talks about Fair Trade

Making sure that whatever you do is actually creating the effects you are looking for is vital for any development initiative.  In my case, I am trying to create a system that brings the benefits of Fair Trade to coffee workers and independent small-scale farmers who are currently not included in Fair Trade while continuing to grow the impact of Fair Trade for farmers already participating in the system.  Nothing else matters if workers, small-scale farmers and their communities don’t see significant benefits from Fair Trade.

We have begun a limited numbers of pilots to understand if and how the new Fair Trade standards we are now implementing in coffee actually work to generate significant benefits for farm workers and independent small-scale farmers.  In the upcoming months, we will be independently gathering information from workers and farmers participating in these pilots to understand how Fair Trade is supporting (or not) workers, farmers and their communities participating in the pilots.  This will help us to determine next steps for our work.  For example, what improvements are needed? Should we continue with more pilots? Under what conditions do our new standards work, and where don’t they?

In one of the farms in Brazil, the farm managers conducted a survey among their workers so the farm could understand how Fair Trade is perceived thus far.  This farm has been certified for 8 months.  Although this survey was not implemented by a third-party (something important to make sure the information is more objective), it provides an idea of how Fair Trade is perceived by the workers we are seeking to benefit.  When asked, Do you think Fair Trade is benefiting workers at the farm?, 100% of the 40 respondents said yes.  The most common comment related to this question was “Fair Trade is helping us to have a better life”.

At coffee farm participating in our Fair Trade pilots program. Workers and I are discussing how we can ensure that Fair Trade really brings significant benefits to workers

Just as small-scale farmers in Fair Trade cooperatives democratically decide how to use the premium they receive from their Fair Trade sales, workers in this Brazilian farm also voted on how to use the first premium coming from their sales.  I had the privilege to witness how the workers at this farm decided to hire doctors from the near town, negotiated services, and received medical care that they had not had ever before.  Hearing first hand from the workers how Fair Trade is benefiting them is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Some preliminary results

In this farm, less than 10% of the coffee has been sold on Fair Trade terms so far.  Here are some of preliminary results from these sales:

  • 12 workers went to the dentist and received dental treatment (fillings, root canals, etc).  Several of these workers went to the dentist for the first time in their lives.
  • 32 workers went to the ophthalmologist and received treatment according to their needs.
  • 29 workers received eye glasses (several of them for the first time in their lives).
  • 6 workers had ultrasounds
  • 2 workers had EKG’s; 2 had tomographies; 2 received other medicines they could not otherwise afford; 2 went to the ear, nose, & throat doctor (ENT); 2 went to an orthopedic.
  • 1 of the workers who went to the ENT needed emergency surgery in order to avoid losing hearing in both ears.  This surgery was successful. The visit to the ENT, medical exams, surgery and travel costs related to the surgery were paid by the workers with the Fair Trade premium.

Some takeaways so far

Some of my takeaways from this preliminary information and my recent visit to the farm are:

  • Nobody knows better than farm workers what their needs are.  Even in a farm that provides general medical access to workers (a doctor visiting almost every week), workers decided to focus first on accessing specialists. Being able to go to the dentist or getting eyeglasses trumped other needs at this farm.
  • Workers are going through a process of learning about Fair Trade and realizing its potential.   During my first visits to the farm last year, several workers were incredulous about the idea of Fair Trade. When I last visited in August after the first projects had been implemented, I talked with the same workers and their perception of Fair Trade had already changed. Workers are beginning to realize that Fair Trade is supposed to be for them.
  • Our impact assessment process needs to combine quantitative and qualitative data collected directly from the workers by an independent party that can really get the information from workers.  We will be implementing more face to face conversations with workers to really understand what works and what does not work with our new standards. There is not a replacement for this type of information.

We need to make sure that our impact assessment process really evaluates what is important for workers and farmers.  Many times is easy to lose focus and evaluate things that are important for donors, industry, or NGO’s but that not might be the most important for workers and farmers.  Maintaining very close involvement with workers and small-scale farmers and relying on partners on the ground with significant experience will be key for ensuring Fair Trade will actually create transformative impact for workers and farmers in the future.

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  1. Pingback: Top 5 moments in 2012 (2) | coffee gente – the people in coffee

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