How long would you work for $1? Most likely, not so long. A dollar for the average adult in North America is pocket change (if such a thing still exists), an amount we throw away more or less blindly. It is certainly not enough to make us want to do our work all day.
And yet, for thousands of cocoa farmers in West Africa, that’s all they earn for a full day’s work. Sometimes it’s even less, as low as $0.78. This tiny amount, which falls below the international poverty line, is certainly not enough to provide a basic standard of living, and this is why so many cocoa farmers struggle to get by.
Fairtrade America wants it to be different. The organization, described as “the world’s most recognized label for social justice and sustainability”, has launched a campaign called “It’s Only Fair” which kicks off with three short videos urging Western shoppers to reflect on the absurdity of expect someone to work for just $1 a day. You see a hairdresser, a clown, and a beautician performing partial versions of their professional tasks, leaving customers perplexed.
The campaign explains why keeping cocoa farmers in extreme poverty causes problems for everyone and has a terrible long-term impact on the planet. What many people may not realize is how dependent we are on small scale production for chocolate. Excerpt from a press release:
“Small family farms with less than five acres of land and an average yield of between 1,300 and 1,760 pounds of cocoa per year provide 90% of the world’s cocoa beans. The cocoa industry is an important source of income for about 50 million people, including 5 million agricultural households.”
Due to unfair trade practices, it is impossible for these farmers and their workers to earn a living, no matter how hard they try. They cannot plan for the future when daily needs are more urgent. Fairtrade America writes, “Extreme poverty can also lead to other problems, such as deforestation and child labor. Farmers are forced to answer unthinkable questions, such as “Should I preserve this forest? Or do I have to clear it to feed my family? These problems are not new.”
What are the farmers saying?
As part of its campaign, Fairtrade America interviews Deborah Osei-Mensah, a registered cocoa farmer in Ghana who is also the Livelihoods Development Officer of the Asunafo North Farmers Union and Manager of the Monitoring and union assessment. She has 2.5 acres of cocoa trees, each acre with 430 trees.
She describes how Fairtrade certification has helped her community. A profound change is that farming is now respected as a profession: “People do not see farming as just any job, but as a business in which they invest. This is largely due to the many trainings provided by Fairtrade, which bring farmers through financial training and vocational training. It has changed our society by giving farmers this knowledge, so that they are confident.”
This knowledge ranges from financial expertise to environmental stewardship. Osei-Mensah talks about water and the fact that she is currently working on a Masters in Environmental Science, Water and Sustainability at the University of Energy and Natural Resources in Ghana.
“I chose this degree because of the work I do with Fairtrade,” says Osei-Mensah. “It helps me model how I talk to my farmers – gives me facts when I talk to them about the environmental impact, how they extract water. It helped me understand a broad overview sustainability issues.
Osei-Mensah sees sustainability as the biggest challenge facing cocoa farmers today. She uses the word in both a financial and an environmental context. Without a living wage, farmers will look for something else to grow that is more profitable than cocoa. “We will come to a time when they will no longer produce because they feel they can use their land for another business, or sell their land to a factory owner and get more profit from it.”
Climate change is another major concern. “Farmers are looking to grow new cocoa trees, new coffee trees, new tea trees. But the survival rate of these new trees is under threat – it’s very difficult to plant 100 saplings and get 80 in six months The cost of production due to climate change is also becoming an issue.With all this, I see a time coming when food, chocolate and coffee will become a bit scarce if nothing is done now.
Solomon Boateng, certification risk manager for the Kuapa Kokoo Farmers Union in Ghana, explains how the Fairtrade Premium – an extra sum of money that goes into a communal fund that farmers can use to improve social, environmental and economic – builds resilience in the face of climate change.
“The program is so important in ensuring our community has the resources to fight challenges, like climate change. For example, last year we used our bounty to distribute over 160,000 trees of shade to our farmers in an effort to protect our cocoa trees from rising temperatures in Ghana, and this year we are supplying over 150,000.”
What can be done?
The hope, of course, is that chocolate consumers will pay more for the treats they enjoy, keeping producers in mind. That’s reasonable, given that a recent study found that Americans are willing to pay up to 30% more for a chocolate bar that they know has treated the farmer well. But it is now a question of putting this into practice on a daily basis by adjusting consumption habits.
Peg Willingham, executive director of Fairtrade America, says it’s more important than ever to listen to farmers and workers around the world. “As we continue to grapple with inflation, we must consider those who earn less than a dollar a day producing the goods we often take for granted in the United States and how they experience the same or even worse conditions. .”
Willingham hopes the campaign videos will “provide positive awareness of the need to pay farmers a living wage”. Knowing that it helps preserve the environment for future generations may inspire more chocolate lovers to choose a fairer offering.
You can support this campaign by spreading the word and looking for the Fairtrade logo on chocolate (and many other products) when shopping.