Greennet rice farming, Thailand
You probably heard people talk about climate change in the news, blogs and social media, and perhaps your friends and family mentioned it several times, too. But have you ever thought about how it directly affects you? Most likely, your life is not at all affected by climate change, or it could be that you don’t perceive its effects in your everyday routine. But climate change is real. It is happening to those affected by it.
Climate change hit small-scale producers hardest. Floods and droughts are affecting agricultural crop production, the very source of income for small, rural farmers. This happens because most agricultural practices in poor countries are dependent on natural climate patterns. A slight change, for example, may cost a year’s income for small farmers.
To prevent, if not, curb the destructive effect of climate change, the Fair Trade movement encourages best practices in agricultural and crafts production in order to help producers in the Global South cope with it. Let’s have a closer look at the Fair Trade principle 10: respect for the environment. This principles includes maximizing the use of raw materials from sustainable sources (preferably local), use of production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption (where possible technologies that use renewable energy), encourage transition to organic agriculture, use of recycled and biodegradable materials, among other things. But how do Fair Trade producers implement this principle in their daily operations? Let’s have a look at two good case studies:
One good example is soleRebels. It is a company founded in 2004 by a brave woman with an entrepreneurial mind and willingness to empower her community in Zenabwork, Ethiopia. Today, they are proud of being the first Fair Trade footwear firm. They aim to make their footwear production carbon neutral or less CO2 emissions using organic and recycled materials sourced locally. The soles of the shoes are made out of old, unwanted truck tyres and tubes hand cut by artisans. The idea was inspired by the unique footwear worn in the past by rebels in Ethiopia. Beside tyres, all the other materials are handmade. Cotton is locally produced according to the traditional techniques by marginalised women in treatment for leprosy.
Other materials are occasionally used according to availability, such as camouflage from old army uniforms. Bethlehem Tilahun, founder of soleRebels, says that recycling is a way of life in Ethiopia and people have always been recycling, long before the word recycling came in use. Tilahun said that soleRebels shoes are ‘green by heritage’ because they embrace the truly sustainable and traditionally carbon-neutral methods of production which are integral parts of Ethiopian culture. This is unique to Fair Trade. Besides encouraging traditional practices, which is often environmentally-friendly, it promotes best environmental practices as a positive consequence.
The Fair Trade movement also works with farmers to raise awareness on the negative impact of agro-chemicals in order to implement sustainable practices in agriculture among small-scale producers. The transition to organic agriculture has been encouraged among communities in the Global South, and today, many Fair Trade crops are produced with organic techniques. A successful conversion project is the Greennet Cooperative in Thailand, a project started in 1993. Greennet grows many varieties of organic rice sold through the channel of Fair Trade.
Farmers in some provinces of Thailand are now experiencing the impact of climate change. Devastating floods brought about by unusual heavy rains and storms destroy crops. Deforestation and harmful agricultural practices exacerbate the impact. These realities compelled Greennet to shift to organic farming, and advocate eco-friendly practices.
Organic agriculture helps preserve the quality of soil. With the establishment of the Greennet Cooperative, it´s easier for farmers to react to natural events caused by climate change. Aggressive awareness raising and training on climate change adaptation are helping farmers deal with impact. Many different organic techniques were experimented in Thailand, some innovative ones and some coming from the tradition. One example is the project Tip from the Field: ‘tricks’ used by the past generations to avoid the use of agro-chemicals are rediscovered and implemented. One example is the use of urine to limit the presence of rats in the fields.
Sustainable practices are a viable way in both crafts and agricultural production, and usually, sustainable solutions are a mix of traditional knowledge and creativity. Fair Trade is encouraging this kind of innovation with greater participation by producers themselves who are in the frontline of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
By Viviana Conti