This November, all eyes will be on Glasgow, when political leaders from across the world gather for the critical COP26 UN climate conference.
As governments hold talks on the challenges and solutions to the climate crisis, some 5,000 miles away in Central America, communities will be commemorating the one-year anniversary of one of the region’s most severe climate disasters in living memory.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the worst on record, with an unprecedented number of storms.
Hurricanes Eta and Iota, in particular, devastated parts of Central America when they made landfall a year ago.
In Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala, farmers suffered extensive loss and damage to their crops, land and infrastructure. Everything they had worked for, suddenly in ruins.
Experts said rising sea temperatures linked to climate change contributed to the strength of these Atlantic storms.
As COP26 approaches, it is one of many stark reminders of the extent to which the climate crisis is endangering the lives and livelihoods of communities the world over.
“There is a chain on earth that starts where the producers are. They are the ones who suffer the consequences of climate change, the ones who get the least help, and carry all of the burden”
Climate change threatens farmers’ livelihoods
At Fairtrade, farmers have told us that climate change is an immediate and ever-increasing threat to their livelihoods, and to the products they grow that we love to eat across the world.
Yet, while the world’s wealthiest 10% are responsible for 50% of global emissions, it is those earning the least in low-income countries who are being forced into extreme hardship by climate change, and suffering its worst effects – from floods, droughts and storms, to hotter temperatures, new pests and crop diseases.
The world’s wealthiest 10% are responsible for 50% of global emissions
In Africa, for instance, temperatures are rising more rapidly than the global average, with extreme weather events and more frequent rainfall now expected across the continent, jeopardising the viability of crops such as cocoa and coffee.
This isn’t just a problem for agricultural communities: it affects us all: 80% of the world’s food comes from 500 million family farms.
And yet, they stand on the frontline of a crisis they have done the least to cause.
As Bayardo Betanco, a farmer with the Prodecoop coffee co-operative in Nicaragua puts it:
“There is a chain on earth that starts where the producers are. They are the ones who suffer the consequences of climate change, the ones who get the least help, and carry all of the burden. It’s not fair.”
Something needs to change, and it needs to change fast.
Fairtrade farmers taking action
There are, however, signs of hope. Fairtrade farmers have been taking action on climate change.
For instance, with the help of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, Fairtrade’s Climate Academy brought East African coffee farmers together to learn and share ways of equipping their farms to withstand extreme weather events.
Meanwhile, in Honduras, farmers from the COCASJOL cooperative have planted tens of thousands of trees with the support of the Fairtrade Premium (an additional payment they receive for selling certified produce).
These are just a few ways Fairtrade farmers are already creating sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.
Sustainable farming requires financial resources
But let’s be clear: farming communities already have the experience and expertise needed to tackle the climate crisis.
However, despite their hard work, the vast majority simply don’t have the financial resources required to farm in ways that are resilient to extreme weather and which produce fewer emissions.
Deeply unfair, and entrenched global trade systems mean many are still trapped in the cycle of poverty.
Farming communities already have the experience and expertise needed to tackle the climate crisis
Take, for instance, this month’s announcement of a sharp drop in the purchase price farmers in Côte d’Ivoire will receive for their cocoa. The new cocoa farmgate price is 18% below the October 2020 harvest value.
It is a real blow to farmers, falling far short of what they need to ease the burden of poverty, let alone adapt to the changing climate.
Although Fairtrade cocoa cooperatives in Côte d’Ivoire will still earn the Fairtrade Minimum Price for their crop – a vital safety net – many more farmers don’t have the financial protections Fairtrade offers.
When farmers already struggle to afford essentials like nutritious food, healthcare and children’s schooling, due to the low prices they receive for their crops, how can we expect them to meet the cost of investing in clean energy, planting trees or cutting their on-farm emissions?
“You promised to change business from exploiter to partner. But shareholders earn billions while millions of farmers earn less than a dollar a day”
We need farmer led solutions
To help meet the scale of the climate challenge, and to reach farming communities on the frontline, wealthier, high-polluting governments with historical responsibility for the climate crisis must end the broken promises and invest in farmer-led solutions.
That’s why Fairtrade’s global network of farmers and workers have come together to send a clear message to world leaders ahead of COP26.
Their message? ‘Be Fair With Your Climate Promise.’
An open letter penned on behalf of Fairtrade’s 1.8 million farmers and agricultural workers is urging governments to honour their pledges to farming communities.
As their letter says: “We grow the food eaten at the tables of people all around the world, as well as other essential produce.
But our ability to do so has been badly damaged by the reckless harm done to our environment from years of broken promises concerning the climate crisis.
“You promised to cut the emissions that drive extreme weather, which dry up our fields one day and flood them the next. But emissions are increasing dangerously while your ambition remains too low.
“You promised to provide climate finance, to help us keep growing food despite the changing weather. But next to nothing is reaching us.
“You promised to change business from exploiter to partner. But shareholders earn billions while millions of farmers earn less than a dollar a day.”
Farmers are asking for 4 urgent climate actions
1) World leaders must ensure the $100 billion per year they promised to help low-income countries fight climate change reaches those who need it most.
3) Governments must ensure any future international trade deals they make are good for the environment and drive trade in fair, low-carbon produce.
4) The letter asks governments to strengthen policies and rules that will encourage businesses to invest in greener, more sustainable supply chains, and pay fair prices to farmers.
Ohene Boafo, a Fairtrade cocoa farmer in the West Akymen Farmers Union in Ghana explains why the letter is so critical: “In the past, we knew when the rains came and when the sun shone: climate change has brought a lot of negative effects on our farms.
“We are not able to determine when to weed and grow our crops. The crops do not grow well, the farming season does not last like it used to.
“We would like governments and world leaders to deliver on their promises concerning climate change. This will improve our lives.”
“We would like governments and world leaders to deliver on their promises concerning climate change. This will improve our lives”
How you can get involved
Voices like Ohene’s must be heard by governments at COP26.
It’s encouraging that Fairtrade businesses – including Ben & Jerry’s, Greggs, M&S, the Co-op and Waitrose – have signed a business pledge urging political leaders to listen to farmers.
We’re now inviting members of the public to add their support to the farmers’ call, by signing a global petition.
At its heart, the fight against climate change is about human rights and ensuring justice for marginalised communities.
For generations, the exploitation of people and planet has caused extreme global inequality and a climate emergency.
It’s time world leaders delivered on their promise to invest in tackling climate change.
It’s time they paid their debt to farmers on the climate frontline.
After decades of all-talk-and-no-action, COP26 is our last best chance to change our collective fate.