Shop Fairtrade for the Climate

When farmers are paid fairly, they're better equipped to fight climate change.

farmer with white coffee beans in Ethiopia
Worker in front of white coffee beans drying in the sun on a fair trade coffee farm, Ethiopia.

Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

Most people recognize the Fairtrade logo when they see it on food and clothing products. It has been around for decades and is unmistakable with its green and blue circle divided by an abstract-looking black human shape. It is typically associated with the ethical treatment of farmers and fair prices paid for products. The logo offers reassurance that the grower in a developing country hasn't been taken advantage of.

What fewer people realize, but should start thinking about, is that the Fairtrade logo also stands for fighting climate change. Consider that over 80% of the world's food comes from 500 million small-scale farms that contribute the least to climate change but are most affected by it. 

Peg Willingham, executive director of Fairtrade America, the U.S. member organization of Fairtrade International, tells Treehugger the situation is quite dire. "By 2050, up to half of the world’s land that’s currently used to farm coffee may not be viable. Additionally, climate studies predict that tea, cocoa and cotton will be so severely affected that production in some areas will even disappear."

Because of this, seeking out Fairtrade-certified goods over non-certified items helps to equip those small-scale producers with the tools, knowledge, and skills they need to combat environmental changes, protect crops and continue growing the products we buyers have grown to love and depend on. 

Fairtrade coffee beans
Getty Images/Yuriko Nakao

How does it do this? Willingham explains, "Fairtrade’s unique pricing model puts more money in the hands of farmers and farming communities, giving them resources to solve environmental challenges and connect them with each other to share best practices in mitigating the climate crisis."

These resources include initiatives such as the Fairtrade Climate Academy, a pilot program that brings together coffee farmers to share skills and experiences that help prepare them for future climate-related challenges. Willingham continues,

"More than 8,500 Kenyan coffee farmers collaborated on this extensive, Fairtrade-led program to make their operations more resilient. For example, farmers learned how to care for their soil and how to grow more drought-resistant crops. The program is designed to be self-sustaining, with farmers who have been trained continuing to educate others about the best farming methods in the changing climate."

Standards for environmental stewardship are embedded within the Fairtrade standards and are designed to meet farmers where they're at, both geographically and financially. For example, the standards ban the use of dangerous pesticides and GMO seeds, protect natural resources, and encourage eco-friendly cultivation. Things like safe storage of chemicals and sustainable water practices are included in the standards, and organic farming is incentivized through an increased premium and minimum price. 

"In total, for the Small Producer Organization Standard, 30% of the criteria are related to the environment," Willingham says. "For the Hired Labor Standard (only applicable for large farms producing tea, flowers, oils and fruits and vegetables like bananas), 24% of the criteria are related to the environment." Fairtrade also helps any farmers who want to convert to organic agriculture, which is a complicated process but has long-term benefits for both the environment and the farmers themselves. 

This may surprise some people who think of Fairtrade as being a mostly people-centric certification, focused on fighting issues like child labor and poverty reduction. But a biannual shopper study conducted by Globescan revealed that three-quarters of American shoppers do recognize that buying Fairtrade means "standing with the farmers and food producers," which goes hand-in-hand with fighting climate change. 

In response to increasing climate concerns, "Fairtrade has increased capacity in climate-focused adaptation and mitigation," Willingham says. "People will always be at the heart of Fairtrade—and in a world where economic justice is inextricably linked to climate justice, we will continue to focus on both."

So, if you want your purchasing decisions to reflect climate action, look for Fairtrade certification the next time you're shopping.

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