Looking to Double Income and Grow Its Farmer Network, Fair Trade USA Launches New Initiative
September 29, 2011 | Andrew Burger
Fair Trade USA, a major third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States, recently launched a new program called “Fair Trade for All,” an overarching organizational initiative that aims to double US sales of certified Fair Trade agricultural products and to further extend the benefits of its trade network to millions more farmers worldwide by 2015.
The new initiative will increase the organization’s overall profile and impact in the US through direct engagement with consumers; invest in farming cooperatives and the development of partnerships in order to empower local farming communities; and rejigger the Fair Trade model to incorporate a greater number of communities around the world, according to a press release.
Raising Awareness of Fair Trade in the US
One key component of “Fair Trade for All” will be its efforts to raise awareness in the US of its efforts to create a level playing field in the international trade of agricultural commodities accomplished through its certification program. While the organization, which was established in Europe over 50 years ago, has achieved 80% market awareness of Fair Trade products among consumers there, consumer awareness of Fair Trade stands at just 34% in the US.
To get the word out the “Fair Trade for All” initiative will run nationwide “Fair Trade Towns and Universities” campaigns to “provide a framework for sustainable consumption and positive community action that leads to immediate impact on farming families.” Fair Trade Towns and Universities campaigns will use events, meet ups, conferences and online forums to bring together advocates, conscious consumers, members of the business and retail community, community organizations, and city or town governments to build awareness of the concept of fair trade and support for those farmers who supply the US market.
The organization’s goal is to have active campaigns up and running in more than 100 towns and universities during the next two years.
Even small percentage increases in Fair Trade’s US consumer sales and market awareness could yield substantial benefits for the organization’s members given the tremendous role US consumer demand plays in the global markets for agricultural commodities, such as coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate and produce, the organization notes.
Helping Co-ops Remain Competitive Over the Long-term
Another key element of the “Fair Trade for All” initiative is the recently launched Co-op Link, a cooperative development program designed to help co-ops become and stay competitive over the long-term. Fair Trade farming cooperatives, the “backbone” of the organization, represent more than 1.2 million farming families in 70 countries worldwide.
Co-op Link targets four key hurdles that have hindered small, local farms practicing sustainable agriculture from developing their businesses:
1. access to affordable, short-term working and long-term investment capital;
2. training to strengthen organizational business capacity;
3. research and training to improve quality and productivity; and
4. market linkage support to help cooperatives find US buyers and diversify markets.
The strategy also entails forming new partnerships with leading social entrepreneurs to provide Fair Trade’s network of farmers with expertise that will enable them “to convert community development funds into effective solutions that address critical social challenges, including water, food security, health care, education and sustainable agriculture.”
A More Just and Consistent Fair Trade Model
Another aspect of the “Fair Trade for All” strategy is the creation of a “more just and consistent Fair Trade model.” Specifically, Fair Trade USA will adapt its existing standards for cotton, rice, tea, flowers and bananas and apply them first to coffee, and then to additional categories of agricultural commodities that it hasn’t been able to address up to now. These also include sugar and cocoa.
“We must innovate responsibly, including the entire rural community while ensuring that growth also benefits our historic partners in the Fair Trade system,” said Paul Rice, President and CEO of Fair Trade. “In this respect, Fair Trade USA is conducting feasibility studies in a few coffee-producing regions to determine how best to pilot standards that will include additional producer groups.”
Fair Trade USA is also looking to form new partnerships with leading social entrepreneurs to provide the organization’s farming communities with expertise that will enable them “to convert community development funds into effective solutions that address critical social challenges, including water, food security, health care, education and sustainable agriculture.”
Founded more than 50 years ago in Europe, Fair Trade’s name and motto, “Every Purchase Matters,” encapsulate what the organization is about. Fair Trade works to level the playing field for global trade in agricultural, food and consumer products by certifying that they are produced, sold and revenue shared equitably among the local agricultural workers, farmers, growers, co-ops, processors, manufacturers, distributors and retailers that comprise Fair Trade’s network of members.
The organization also promotes the notion that consumers can and should take responsibility for how their food is produced and who benefits by encouraging and helping consumers ‘vote with their pocketbooks’ to support products that are grown using sustainable methods that directly and equitably benefit local farmers and agricultural workers, their communities and the environment over the long haul.
Fair Trade has made its name working closely with small, local communities of farmers around the world growing agricultural commodities, such as coffee, tea, cotton and rice.
As Fair Trade’s Rice explained, “Fair Trade is a comprehensive approach to sustainable development that improves lives and protects the planet. Since 1998, Fair Trade USA and our many partners have generated $220 million in additional income for farmers and workers and placed nearly 10,000 Fair Trade Certified products on store shelves across the nation.”