Climate-Smart Supply Chains: Lessons for COP27 from Fairtrade

By Hannah Radvan, Fairtrade Foundation and Brian Nimwesiga, Fairtrade Africa

Living at the forefront of the climate crisis, farmers and workers in low-income countries are uniquely positioned to address climate challenges. Yet with many struggling to earn a living income or wage, they often lack the resources to turn their informed thinking on climate adaptation and mitigation into action.

One year since COP26, and we have seen minimal action from world leaders to support farmers and workers with a just transition or to deliver on the headline $100 billion promise of climate adaptation finance. In contrast, one year since the launch of Fairtrade’s ‘Alliance for Climate-Smart Supply Chains in Africa’ (FACSCA), and we have seen over 1,400 producers take action into their own hands to address the climate crisis.

For many farming communities, climate change is the biggest issue they face. Mary Warau, a flower worker at Rainforest Farmland in Kenya, explains why inaction is no longer an option: “What I am afraid of is where we are going to be in the next 5-10 years if we do not do anything about climate change. There is drought, flooding, low yields, and infestation of pests and diseases. Definitely there is going to be famine. Because if the farm produce did not do well, there is going to be scarcity of food. The cost of living will also go up.”

Living at the forefront of the climate crisis, farmers and workers in low-income countries are uniquely positioned to address climate challenges. Yet with many struggling to earn a living income or wage, they often lack the resources to turn their informed thinking on climate adaptation and mitigation into action. Against this backdrop, Fairtrade Foundation and the Co-op UK partnered with Fairtrade Africa to strengthen sustainable farming systems and climate resilience amongst 12 coffee, tea and flower producer organisations in Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda – under FACSCA.

The alliance’s first year has already brought incredible results. Following a series of trainings, over 1,400 farmers have gained knowledge on the causes of climate change and how to reduce their environmental impact. As a result, many have embraced tree planting – including Kenyan tea farmer David Kipng’eno from Fintea cooperative, who says: “[FACSCA] has really helped in coming together as farmers.… We have agreed to plant trees that will take care of the environment.”

Farmers and workers have also been trained on, and started adopting, sustainable agriculture land management practices, aiming to boost productivity whilst reducing water and carbon footprints. This includes soil and water conservation techniques, agronomic practices such as making organic manure, and agroforestry such as tree-planting along riverbanks and intercropping. As a result, some farmers such as Evalyne Nyawira Njiraini from Mutira cooperative, have already reported positive impacts on their production.

Evalyne explains: “FACSCA came, and we were taught how to do mulching to prevent leaching and erosion. We were taught about shade trees and that has helped us because we saw that we were able to control the things that were affected by climate change. It was even possible for us to even increase our production. After the training we were able to pass the information to other people in the community, which also has a good impact in their lives.”

Lastly, farmers have been trained on environmentally friendly income-generating activities and enterprises to diversify their incomes and protect themselves against climate shocks. Many have already started diversifying incomes through kitchen gardens to ensure they have food and extra income. Next year, they will receive seed-funding to grow these initiatives further.

Tea farmer Emily Rotich, from Fintea cooperative Kenya, says: “FACSCA has really supported me. When I go to the farm, I get good yields and thus I have money for food, children’s clothes…The kitchen garden now gives me personal money. There is a huge difference.”

Lessons for farmer-focused climate action

The success of FACSCA’s first year highlights two key lessons for scaling the alliance. Firstly, the importance of investing in a strong ‘Training of Trainers’ (TOT) model to create expert farmers who can cascade knowledge throughout cooperatives. Fairtrade Africa ensured it leveraged Producer Organisations’ existing models and processes in project design and delivery. For instance, FACSCA implemented the TOT model with a number of Producer Organisations (POs) that had existing farmer field schools, enabling the cascading of trainings to reach more farmers within a shorter time.

Another key lesson has been the importance of taking time to consult in depth with POs before activities begin. Fairtrade Africa is investing in detailed, quarterly joint workplans with POs to ensure continued, smooth rollout of projects and training: it will also work more closely with the PO leadership to ensure sufficient support and ownership of the activities is maintained.

Nelson Kibet Ng’eno, Manager at Fintea Cooperative, Kenya, reflects: “FACSCA has really been marvellous because we just kicked off the project, but you can see the farmers already who interact with it. They have really made some steps The farmers are now doing diversification… [and] tree nurseries to see that they have enough trees to plant in their own farms.”

A year in, FACSCA has demonstrated how much can be achieved if the agricultural communities closest to the climate challenge have access to resources and training, and can meaningfully input into the design of mitigation and adaptation activities. Fairtrade now hopes to grow the alliance and secure further funding, so more farmers are equipped to face our climate reality.

Guy Stuart, Director of Technical, Agriculture and Sustainability at Co-op, explains why climate justice and this programme investment is so important: “By taking a just-transition approach and working in partnership with Fairtrade Africa and farming experts, we are able to take meaningful action to support producers in maintaining resilience in the face of climate change and global uncertainty. We are so pleased to see how this future-focused programme is progressing and call on other businesses to join this alliance to take collective action with us.”

By placing decision-making with Fairtrade Africa, who work closely with producers, FACSCA demonstrates how private-NGO partnerships can be collaborative, driven by shared values that address power imbalances in trade and ensure producers’ voices are central in programme design and delivery. This COP27, we hope world leaders not only take action and honour their climate promises, but also listen to the custodians of our land and ensure that farmers themselves can contribute to the design of climate funds, so that resources are effectively deployed in the fight against climate change. The climate clock is ticking and time for action is now.

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