28 August, 2018

Fairtrade Figures, What Can Data tell Us?

Alberta, Vice-President of the Nahuala coffee coop, picks the last of the coffee in a small coffee plantation.
by Arisbe Mendoza, Head of Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at Fairtrade International

This article originally appeared on Fairtrade International's website.

Esme Kamwende is one of the women small-scale tea producers of Sukambizi Association Trust in Malawi. She takes pride in the investments made in sustainable farming and community projects that Fairtrade has enabled. Sukambizi members – 70 percent of whom are women – have invested funds in social projects, including a new school, a maternity wing extension, and a 28-kilometre pipeline to supply twelve villages with drinkable water, as well as infrastructure to improve transportation of green leaf tea and access to markets. She says, “We believe in a future here but this is only possible if the next generation gets [consumers’] support."

Every Fairtrade farmer and worker has a story to tell. It’s important to hear these stories, to truly understand how people are impacted by Fairtrade.

We also believe it’s important to look at the numbers. Are more organizations continuing to gain Fairtrade certification? Are sales growing? How are Fairtrade farmers and workers choosing to spend their Premium funds? And most importantly, how should we be evolving our strategies to further empower farmers and workers to earn a decent living and improve their communities?

Because we are a learning organization and value transparency, Fairtrade compiles key data collected from certified producer organizations through auditing and producer support activities, and makes it publicly available each year through our Monitoring Report. You can check out the latest report here.

Looking at the data tells us some interesting things about extent, nature, and distribution of Fairtrade’s benefits for farmers and workers. Indigenous woman Rosalina stands in a small coffee field.

More than half of all Fairtrade producer organizations are in Latin America (52%), which has a stronger tradition of cooperatives than some other parts of the world; 31% of Fairtrade producer organizations are in Africa and the Middle East, and 17% are in the Asia and Pacific region. By contrast, there are more farmers in Africa and the Middle East (close to 1 million) than there are in the other two regions combined. Workers employed by Fairtrade certified plantations total almost 186,000, with more than half of those in Africa and the Middle East, followed by another third in Asia and the Pacific.

Fairtrade’s top three products by sales volumes are bananas, cocoa and coffee, and sales are steadily growing.

These three products also account for 80% of the Fairtrade Premium earned in 2016. One of the major benefits of Fairtrade, the Premium is an additional amount that producers earn on top of the sales price that they then choose how to invest in their businesses and their communities. The latest data tell us that farmer cooperatives prioritized their Premium spending for services for their farmer members (48%), and strengthening the cooperatives themselves (42%). Workers on plantations focused their Premium on services for themselves and their families (76%), services for their communities (11%), and training and empowerment of workers (10%).

In addition to our usual analyses, this year we did an exercise to map Premium spending to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to better understand where Fairtrade’s impact aligns with global priorities.

According to our mapping, more than half of Premium expenditure went towards SDG 2, Zero Hunger (55%). Another 22 percent contributed to SDG 1, No Poverty. These are not decisions made by Fairtrade, but rather the priorities expressed by farmers and workers themselves, through their choices about how to spend their Premium funds.

Our data, particularly external studies that we commission, also point to ongoing challenges, such as that many cocoa farmers are still not earning a living income in West Africa. Research insights are also included in our Monitoring Report as an important additional set of information on Fairtrade’s impact.

So what do we do with all of this data? As a multi-stakeholder system that is 50 percent owned by producers themselves, we are driven by farmers and workers themselves. We share this data with them, and we get their input, whether through our General Assembly, our three regional Producer Networks, our consultations for updating our standards and prices, and in thousands of personal contacts each year.

The data and stories together help us understand where Fairtrade is doing well, and where there are still global trade imbalances that we need to work harder to address.

Feel free to dig into the data yourself, and let us know what you think at impact@fairtrade.net.

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