How Climate Change Challenges Farmers Producing the Food You Eat

Fairtrade collaborates with farmers to adapt to escalating conditions.

Coffee farmers in Kenya learn different techniques to adapt to climate change through the Fairtrade Climate Academy.Tessa Jol

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Around the world, farmers who grow coffee, cocoa, bananas, and other everyday supplies are grappling with extreme weather and escalating conditions intensified by climate change. And these farmers tend to suffer the most, facing reduced harvests with few fallbacks for funding, training, and resources. Upgrading and investing in new technologies is virtually impossible when farmers don’t get a fair deal and ample return on their crops, let alone having basic human needs met like access to clean water, sanitation, and food. Which is why the Fairtrade International system is mobilizing to support them.

Fairtrade Certification to Support Farmers

The mission of Fairtrade International and its US headquarters, Fairtrade America, is to protect and promote the rights of farmers producing the raw ingredients and materials we rely on every day by partnering with brands to ethically source and fairly compensate farmers for their crops. One of the simplest and most effective actions people can take toward that goal is choosing Fairtrade certified products. Fairtrade’s new Product Finder is an easy tool to help.

The harrowing impact of rising temperatures and sea levels is devastating crops. Unpredictable rainfall is harming the harvest of bananas, coffee beans, and cocoa, and many farmers are resorting to deforestation to expand land in hopes of increasing their low income. When it comes to coffee, which is already sold at low prices, farmers name climate change’s costs—more pests, faster-spreading diseases, hostile weather—as the biggest obstacles to a livable income. Extremely uncertain yields for small farms are made worse by irregular rainfall and severe drought. In Kenya, coffee bushes yielded cherries at on average 40 percent less in 2019 than in 2017 as a direct result of the climate crisis.

Irregular rainfall, periods of severe drought and rising temperatures lead to extremely uncertain yields for small coffee farms. This coffee plant has been damaged by climate change.

Tessa Jol

To improve the situation both now and in the future, Fairtrade collaborates with farmers to minimize environmental impact by restricting use of harmful chemicals, banning GMO seeds, preserving protected forests, and encouraging organic farming. Fairtrade’s unique pricing model puts more money in the hands of farmers and farming communities, giving them resources to solve environmental challenges and connect them with each other to share best practices in mitigating the climate crisis.

Beyond Price

By 2050, up to half of the world’s land that’s currently used to farm coffee may not be viable. So Fairtrade has created the Fairtrade Climate Academy, a pilot program to bring coffee farmers together to share skills and experiences for future climate challenges. About 10,000 Kenyan coffee farmers collaborated with Fairtrade on this extensive program to make their operations more resilient. Farmers learned how to care for their soil and grow more drought-resistant crops. The program helped them use cow manure to produce energy, decreasing smoke and tree cutting for firewood. The Fairtrade Climate Academy is designed to be self-sustaining, with farmers trained to educate each other about the best farming methods in the changing climate.

Judith Roto is a coffee farmer from the Kipkelion co-operative in Kenya. She has seen crops negatively affected by changing weather patterns associated with climate change and how that in turn affects community members. Through the Climate Academy, Judith is better prepared for these shifting conditions.

Tessa Jol

“We have greatly benefited from the Fairtrade Climate Academy training. We can’t rely on the standard rainy seasons anymore. Fortunately, we are now better prepared to handle these circumstances,” says Judith Roto, a Fairtrade coffee farmer from Kibukwo in western Kenya.

Sharing Skills Across Borders

Fairtrade has compiled its Climate Academy’s key lessons and concrete tools as an open resource for all coffee farmers on YouTube, translated into five languages to ensure widespread access throughout Fairtrade’s network of almost 2 million producers. Fairtrade is also loading the content to portable projectors to reach producers in remote regions.

Prior to the Fairtrade Climate Academy, most participating coffee farmers had little to no knowledge of climate change. They saw the weather patterns change, but didn’t really know what caused these changes. Therefore, early workshops focused on raising awareness among leaders on how to identify the problems, allocate financial resources, and implement necessary measures efficiently.

Tessa Jol

Sharing knowledge and financial resources is critical to helping farmers maintain their livelihoods. And buying Fairtrade certified goods makes a huge positive impact, especially after Fairtrade America launched its “Choose Fairtrade, Choose the Planet campaign in partnership with six Fairtrade-certified brands to encourage ethical online shopping. Look for the Fairtrade mark when shopping for household staples, such as coffee, chocolate and bananas. Check out the Fairtrade product finder for a list of certified brands and products.