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.
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