Small Farmers, Big Impact: A Sustainable Food Systems Vision Through The Fair Trade Business Model

In recent decades, food systems on a global scale have been caught in the throes of instability, sending shockwaves throughout the world. This instability is a multifaceted crisis that transcends mere matters of food availability and affordability. Its repercussions ripple through the fabric of society, threatening the livelihoods of millions, further destabilising the fragile ecosystems we live in and highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive response to address the food security crisis.

The consequences of our current global food production model, dominated by large agribusinesses and riddled with environmental degradation and social injustices, are clear. It’s a model that blatantly privileges profit over people and the planet, putting never-ending over-production before the social and environmental responsibility that comes when producing healthy, nutritious and affordable food

One of the most glaring, (in)natural consequences of this profit-driven production model which is deeply defining our food chains is of course the exploitation of populations, both in the Global North and South, that are made vulnerable by this unfair, inequitable economic system. Small-scale farmers, the backbone of local communities and environmental protection, find themselves economically marginalised and unable to secure fair wages for their labour. This not only perpetuates cycles of poverty across generations but also fuels food insecurity and multiple environmental crises on a global scale. The Global North is also affected: urban food insecurity is becoming an increasing concern, especially in big metropolitan areas (the so-called food deserts), where fresh, locally sourced and nutritious food is simply made inaccessible by food giants controlling the (super)markets, especially in regards to food distribution and pricing practices.

The influence of agribusiness billionaires on our food systems extends beyond food per se: it’s also affecting the planning and development of our countries, towns, and cities. This influence is gradually leading to a noticeable polarisation between urban and agricultural areas, exacerbating environmental issues, including habitat loss, deforestation, and increased greenhouse gas emissions from urban sprawl. Besides, monoculture not only keeps homogenising our food supply, making it susceptible to diseases and pests but also forces the loss of traditional and indigenous crop varieties, erasing centuries of cultural and agricultural heritage.

On top of it, for those countries whose economic landscape is currently dependent on cash crops, the impact of climate change and rising temperatures is deeply affecting farmers and triggering climate migration dynamics both in the Global North and in the Global South. Farmers are forced to leave their lands, made infertile due to monocultural practices aimed at keeping up with the insane production rhythms, to the big cities or abroad. Fertile soils are often forcefully taken by food giants causing deforestation, and forcing the inhabitants of these regions, to leave the the land they call home. Land grabbing is becoming a mainstream practice in many countries.

Essentially, the relentless pursuit of profit is already coming at the expense of the very social and environmental ecosystems that food production relies upon.

At WFTO, we believe that equitable and sustainable food systems are tightly interdependent with our planet’s and its people’s survival

The Fair Trade Enterprises that belong to our community and produce food are diverse in size, location and shape but they prioritise working with small-scale farmers and with regenerative farming practices. Together with them, we advocate for a radical change in the global food systems and for food sovereignty, to ensure that not only our Earth is protected with the right practices, but also that those who are producing our food, from North to South, are truly represented in policies and fairly paid for their work and products. We believe that once Fair Trade Enterprises populate our economic landscape, not only the direct farmers involved, but everybody in the community, the ecosystem and the consumers of much healthier food will benefit. 

At WFTO, we know that food systems have to be seen on a global level, but we are also aware that they ultimately happen on a local level. That’s why we deeply encourage sustainable local production and consumption, as our mission is also to connect consumers with transparent, fair food markets to further reduce dependence on global supply chains (which are often exploitative, environmentally detrimental and unreliable). We do it by creating marketing opportunities for such producers, who are verified on their whole business model (and not just on the commodity) according to our 10 Fair Trade Principles. For the change in food systems to happen, we must think of them as entire supply chains and interlinkages, where accountability and social-environmental responsibility don’t lie only in the hands of those who harvest, but also in those who process, trade and eat the food.

Photos: Gebana, Girolomoni, Altromercato, Sunbula.

We believe that the right entrepreneurship can be empowering. Since 1989, we have been advocating for fair trading practices, representing small-holder farmers and cooperatives, ensuring fair wages and explicitly addressing global issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, gender inequality and economic marginalisation through fair trading and production models. 

Our WFTO mark is not just a label; it is a powerful movement of entrepreneurs, farmers and producers that is advocating for an alternative, planet- and community-centred approach to agriculture. In the North and the South! By promoting small-scale farmers, farmers markets, regional food sovereignty, and diversification of agricultural practices, we can create a world where food production is environmentally sound, socially just, healthy and democratically empowered.

By Marta Frigato

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17th international


17-20 SEPT 2024 – CAPE TOWN 

We are thrilled to invite you to our upcoming International Fair Trade Summit, set to take place in the vibrant city of Cape Town, from the 17th to the 20th of September 2024.

The International Fair Trade Summit aims to bring together leaders, practitioners, and advocates from all corners of the globe to collaborate and promote Fair Trade practices. This edition promises to be a unique opportunity for participants to engage in enlightening discussions, exchange ideas, and forge partnerships that will shape the future of Fair Trade.

WFTO Membership & Associate Types

  • Fair Trade Organisations (FTO)

    All trading members of WFTO. This includes all organisations that have more than half of their income and/or more than €100,000 in income from trade.

  • Fair Trade Support Organisations (FTSO)

    An organisation whose primary mission is to support Fair Trade and/or provide services to organisations that are or want to become Fair Trade Organisations.

  • Fair Trade Networks (FTN)

    An organisation which is an association of organisations committed to Fair Trade.

  • Individual Associates (IA)

    Individual Associates are supporters of the Fair Trade movement with limited rights. The WFTO Guarantee System does not apply to them.

  • Associate Organisations (AO)

    Associate Organisations align with WFTO’s values but after their application. They do not undergo monitoring and also have limited rights.

WFTO Guarantee System Monitoring Statuses

  • Candidates

    Candidates have been conditionally approved for membership but have not completed their first monitoring cycle under the WFTO Guarantee System. They have limited rights within WFTO. They may not use the WFTO Member Mark and Product Label or claim that they are monitored by WFTO.

  • Guaranteed Members

    Guaranteed members have met the WFTO Membership requirements and are monitored under the WFTO Guarantee System.

  • Member

    Organisations that have no or little income from trade go through a reduced version of the WFTO Guarantee System that does not include criteria related to trade. These organisations may use the WFTO Member Mark but cannot use the Product Label for any products they may be trading to support their mission. This status only applies to Fair Trade Networks (FTN) and Support Organisations (FTSO).

  • Renewal in Progress

    Members who are in the process of renewing their guaranteed status and are overdue on some requirements retain full rights while they work to meet the demands of the Guarantee System on an administrative or compliance level.

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WFTO welcomes applications from established Fair Trade Organisations as well as organisations that support Fair Trade. Individuals in their capacity as researchers, writers, consultants and specialists in their field who can contribute solid skills, knowledge and expertise to WFTO and members are also welcome.

Add Your Heading Text Initial requirements for organisations:

  • Compliance with the WFTO 10 Principles of Fair Trade. Please have a look at the WFTO Fair Trade Standard for more specific information on compliance with these principles.

  • All applicant organisations must already be duly registered (as a legal entity) and active for at least one year.

Who can apply?

  • Fair Trade Organisations (FTO)

    All companies, partnerships, co-partnerships and other legal bodies – as determined by the legal provisions of the country of the member concerned – that are directly engaged in Fair Trade. They may be producers or northern or southern based trading FTOs for whom Fair Trade is the main activity. To qualify for FTO membership, income from sales (turnover) must account for 50% or more of the total income. Applications for FTO membership cannot be accepted from organisations with no prior sales history.

  • Fair Trade Networks (FTN)

    Legal entities whose primary function is to serve as national or international associations of Fair Trade producers and/or Fair Trade Organisations.

  • Fair Trade Support Organisations (FTSO)

    Fair Trade Organisations where trading is not the main activity (proportion of trade is less than 50% of total income). These organisations are engaged in Fair Trade indirectly, through activities that promote and support Fair Trade. These activities can include business counselling, finance, advocacy or networking.

  • Associate Organisations

    This is a special category for national or international organisations that are interested in supporting and promoting Fair Trade, including donor organisations. Organisations that do not meet the one-year legal existence requirement also fit in this group.

  • Individual Associates

    Individual researchers, writers, consultants and specialists in their field that can support WFTO. WFTO expects its individual associates to be active Fair Trade supporters whose experience and expertise in their own particular field can be of practical benefit to WFTO's members. To apply, please submit a curriculum vitae.

    While FTO, FTN and FTSO are entitled to full WFTO membership, organizational and individual associates have only limited rights.

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The WFTO Product Label is more than just a Fair Trade symbol. It signifies not only that the practices across the supply chain are checked against the WFTO Fair Trade Standard, but it also represents support to the battle against poverty and inequality. Products carrying the WFTO Label are made and traded by Guaranteed Fair Trade Organisations dedicated to the sustainable Fair Trade economy. Every purchase of products with the WFTO Label supports small producers and their communities.

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