Who doesn’t like to start their day with a banana smoothie, avocado on toast or a steaming cup of strong coffee? Or relax after work with a glass of wine and a handful of nuts? For millions of consumers around the world, life without some of our favourite foods and drinks would be very dull indeed.
Yet bananas, coffee, wine and cashew nuts are just a few of the products which could disappear from our supermarket shelves by the middle of this century. The impacts of climate change combined with increasingly unsustainable, unfair global food systems could see widespread crop failures which spell disaster for both farmers and consumers.
Fairtrade’s recently launched sustainable agriculture policy calls for resilient food systems built on agroecology – that is, the application of environmentally, economically and socially responsible principles to farming. Here are five reasons why our current food and farming policies need a complete reset – and how we can do it.
- Sustainable, equitable food systems are critical for the survival of both people and planet, but global food systems are teetering on the edge of collapse. The good news is that wide scale disruption may be imminent, but it can still be mitigated.
We need to move quickly towards sustainable, resilient and holistic agricultural production based on the needs of farmers, their communities and their local environments. That means respecting farmers autonomy, indigenous knowledge and stewardship of the land; helping women to own their own land and to get access to investment finance; and paying farmers and agricultural workers a decent income which reflects the true cost of sustainable production.
- Farmers in countries disadvantaged by global trading inequalities are suffering the impacts of a climate crisis not of their own making. Climate change is already triggering a host of environmental, social and economic consequences and countries whose economies rely on cash crops will suffer significant declines in revenue in the future.
In fewer than 30 years, increases in temperatures and extreme weather could make many regions unsuitable for growing crops including bananas, coffee, avocados, cashews, cocoa and grapes. Fairtrade works with more than two million farmers and workers to support them in reducing their water footprint, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and creating new sources of revenue from carbon removal units. We also assist them to access finance and expertise as they seek to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.
- Biodiversity – already under siege from a host of threats from climate change to habitat destruction – will be further degraded. Agriculture is responsible for 80 percent of tropical deforestation: forests and protected nature reserves are increasingly at risk as desperate farmers seek ever more productive land.
Agroforestry – planting crops among or alongside trees – could be a game-changer for many farmers and for the planet. Crops such as cocoa and coffee thrive when grown in the shade of a healthy tree canopy which helps to regulate temperature and humidity, as well as benefiting wildlife and insects. Farmers also benefit from diversified income streams, better soil quality, lower fertiliser and pesticide costs, and improved working conditions.
- Fewer and fewer young people want to follow their parents’ footsteps into farming because they see no future in it. Food systems will only be sustainable as long as farmers and their families can earn a living income from their work – enough to ensure a decent quality of life with a little left over for a rainy day.
Fairtrade champions sustainable livelihoods and decent working conditions and encourages young people to get involved in making decisions which affect their futures – so that sustainable farming can be preserved for future generations.
- Global food supply chains are overwhelmingly skewed in favour of multinational agri-businesses, commodity traders and big brands while the small-scale farmers and producers who actually grow food invariably get screwed over.
Adding to existing imbalances, climate change, the post-pandemic economic downturn, volatile commodity markets and the war in Ukraine have created a perfect storm of rising costs and falling revenue. Small-scale farmers often have little bargaining power to leverage better prices and are vulnerable to unfair trading practices. Fairtrade standards help to protect weaker suppliers against stronger buyers, so contributing to fairer markets and fairer, more transparent and more accountable supply chains.
I am convinced that agroecology is essential for a sustainable food system and for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are at a tipping point, but we can avoid catastrophe by moving towards a more sustainable food system based on holistic ecological, social and economic foundations. A sustainable future must also be a fair future.