“I have participated in other workshops where people have ‘explained to me’ a set of standards. This is the first time I am in a workshop to discuss the standards, and negotiate potential changes. One thing is that somebody from outside, from an office somewhere writes a standard. A very different thing is to improve a standard together, with the field and life experience of coffee farmers and of the organizations supporting farmers to implement the standards” – words from a community leader involved in Fair Trade for many years. He is now also supporting a group of independent smallholders to create a farmer organization using our new independent smallholder standards
Last week, I was in Honduras for a workshop with smallholder coffee farmers from Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras and Peru. For a couple of days, we analyzed and discussed our project to support independent smallholders to create and strengthen farmer organizations and to benefit from Fair Trade. The idea was to understand how farmers are seeing our new standards and processes and receive recommendations for improvements to make sure our Fair Trade model really brings the impact that farmers expect.
Having the farmers themselves provide this feedback is very important for our project. We want to make sure that the voices of those who would benefit from this work are guiding this initiative.
We define independent smallholders as those small farmers who do not have a farmer organization of their own (such as a co-op, association). They represent the majority of coffee farmers in the world and, in most cases, they do not receive the benefits of having a farmer organization (better and more direct access to markets, technical assistance, access to credit, cheaper inputs, information, political support, etc). By definition, these farmers do not have a strong voice in the coffee industry. They had not been included in our work in Fair Trade and they did not have a voice in our system to express they wanted to be included or how it made sense to include them. We are trying to change that and this workshop was a step on that direction.
This workshop was an opportunity for farmers from different countries to discuss their experiences in person, learn from those different experiences and also allow us to learn and improve too.
We also invited the Market Access Partners of these farmers – the organizations supporting these farmers to get organized, meet the standards and sell coffee. In most cases, these are organizations already involved in Fair Trade for many years and that see these standards as a way to bring other farmers (independent farmers) to Fair Trade and help them to create farmer organizations of their own. So, in addition to independent smallholders, we had people with a lot of experience in Fair Trade, working with co-ops and in specialty coffee.
An agronomist who works for a farmer organization participating in this project said: “this workshop was a great initiative, I am glad you all organized this. Many certifications and projects just make changes to the standards and we have to apply them later. It is important to include the voice and opinion of farmers in this process. Now that we all have shared our ideas and learned from the experience of other farmers, we have created a stronger relationship with Fair Trade”
I will be sharing more info on what we learned from this workshop went in the next couple of weeks but I wanted to highlight how important farmers see having the chance of express their opinion, and share their experience in our process. I have always thought that having a strong farmer voice in our work is the right thing and the smart thing to do. To me, this workshop confirms that. I hope, as an industry, we will make sure that farmers (and workers) will have a stronger voice and participation in making specialty coffee truly sustainable (for everyone) in the long-term.