3 Sep 2012 --- Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, has announced that two groups of independent, small-scale coffee farmers have achieved Fair Trade certification. As part of Fair Trade USA’s Fair Trade for All initiative, these new pilot programs will provide 800 small farmers in Costa Rica and Colombia access to the many opportunities and benefits of Fair Trade, including: fair prices, safe working conditions, direct relationships with buyers, and the ability to earn community development premiums to empower and improve their communities. These farmers were previously unable to achieve Fair Trade certification because they are not organized into formal cooperatives.
In the coffee sector, Fair Trade has historically been reserved for small farmers organized into co-ops, while in other categories like rice and cotton, independent small farmers can be part of Fair Trade. To eliminate this inconsistency, Fair Trade USA is now piloting the Independent Smallholders Standard (ISS), which creates a path for small farmers to choose their own organizational form, and over time, organize themselves into more advanced structures such as cooperatives. The ISS was developed in accordance with several existing standards and their compliance criteria, and integrates feedback from a diverse array of stakeholders solicited during a three month public review period.
According to the Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung Foundation, 80 percent of the world’s coffee is produced by small-scale farmers, but only a fraction of them were previously eligible for Fair Trade.
“We believe that all farmers and workers deserve access to the benefits and opportunities of Fair Trade,” said Miguel Zamora, Fair Trade USA’s Director of Coffee Innovation. “The inclusion of San Ramón and Nariño is the first step in a long journey to doubling the impact of Fair Trade for farming families across the globe.”
In San Ramón, Costa Rica, 550 small-scale growers have joined forces to become the first group of independent smallholders in coffee to earn Fair Trade certification. Café de Altura de San Ramón is a producer-owned and operated organization, though not technically a cooperative. After struggling for years to earn Fair Trade certification under the Small Producer Organization Standard, the farmers now look to the ISS with high hopes that it will yield opportunities to improve the overall well-being of their community.
“If we all hold hands and work together, the whole community benefits. Fair Trade is a way to continue doing that. We want benefits for all of the community and not only for a few,” said Cecilio Jiménez, Fair Trade Committee President and a 75-year-old coffee grower.
As required by the ISS, the farmers of San Ramón democratically-elected a Fair Trade Committee, which will oversee the investment of the first Fair Trade community development premiums in much-needed healthcare services. The growers also hope to launch new businesses, give their young people incentives to stay in San Ramón and stem the migration to nearby cities, and promote efforts to preserve the environment.
Organization is key to improving market access in the coffee industry. Unfortunately, cooperative farming has been historically unsuccessful in Nariño, the southern-most region in Colombia and home to approximately 35,000 independent, small-scale coffee growers.
Fair Trade USA has brought together 250 of these growers, who each owns between 1 and 5 acres of land, to participate in this pilot program. With support from AVINA and FUNDES, the farmers have organized themselves into community-based associations (of 30-50 people) enabling them to export as a group, gain greater market access and business training, and receive Fair Trade community development premiums for their coffee.
“The idea of Fair Trade is very compelling. Instead of external projects funded by others, we will choose our own projects and implement them with our own funds,” said José Erney Ahuamada, a Nariño coffee farmer.
After their first Fair Trade sale, the group will invest their premiums in capacity building and business training programs. They want to work better as a group and improve the logistics of their business in order to receive better prices for their coffee, and to deepen the impact of Fair Trade.
“The farmers of Nariño and San Ramón have long seen and heard about the benefits of Fair Trade in their neighboring communities," said Paul Rice, President & CEO of Fair Trade USA, “but their own participation has never before been possible. We welcome them with open arms as they begin their Fair Trade journey of social responsibility and environmental sustainability.”