Sustainability, Environment, World

Editorial: Small-scale farmers set hopes high for Paris climate change conference

UN member countries, non-governmental organizations, lobbyist groups and UN agencies represented their interests in the development of a universal agreement on climate change at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, with many expecting great results. Fairtrade International, one of the largest fair trade certification groups – part of a movement asking consumers to pay a little more for a product to help the people who produce it – is one such organization. In a short video series featuring farmers from across the globe, from Kenya to Peru to India, Fairtrade sparks a discussion on the monumental importance of reducing climate change.

What’s so important about COP21?

Climate change has begun to be a front and centre issue for both developed and developing countries today; meetings like COP serve as valuable opportunities for the global community to work together towards a common goal of reducing the effects of global warming. Within COP21 is the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), a platform where countries and non-governmental actors discuss their respective interests in order to reach an agreement on cooperative climate change action. The LPAA highlights in a statement both the mounting threat of climate change against agriculture and the fact that agriculture accounts for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, major contributors to global warming. This is a key concern for Fairtrade because many of their partners’ livelihoods are agricultural. The LPAA proposed initiatives focusing on four areas: soils in agriculture, food losses and waste, sustainable production, and resilience of farmers. Partnerships developed within the LPAA will commit money and technical knowledge towards supporting farmers in developed and developing countries to become key actors in the global drive to reduce climate change.

Fairtrade farmers

The farmers featured in Fairtrade’s video series are members of cooperatives – jointly-owned businesses that share profits with members, in their countries – partnering with Fairtrade to ensure that members receive fair payment for their goods. Generally, Fairtrade partners are farmers or artisans who partner with the organization as a way to combat the highly competitive nature of free trade that would pay them very low prices for their work. These competitive prices are not enough for them to survive on. With agriculture as their livelihoods, they understandably have many concerns about climate change and how COP21 decisions will directly affect them.

Mabraat Kabbada harvesting coffee cherries.

Their thoughts on COP21

The farmers in Fairtrade’s videos express a sense of urgency about COP21. From Kenya to India to Mexico, climate change is affecting small-scale farmers in devastating ways.
“It doesn’t rain when it should, and it rains when it shouldn’t,” says Luis Martínez Villanueva, a representative from Mexico. Changing weather patterns are problematic for farmers, driving down production by causing droughts and crop diseases. With falling production, farmers’ incomes are falling, too. Facing such grim realities, farmers set their hopes high for COP21. Victor Biwot, a tea farmer from Kenya, says he’d like to see more activities spearheaded by developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support African farmers to adopt energy efficient methods. A representative of the Suminter India Organic Farmers Consortium, Benny Mathew, demonstrates that solar power allows farmers to dry 500g of seeds using 250kg instead of 1500kg of firewood. By using a more sustainable energy source, farmers in Kerala, India are able to do more work at less cost to the environment. Making moves towards greener energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions may seem like moving a mountain, but to small-scale farmers, it will be life-changing. “We need to have high expectations even if we don’t reach them,” Villanueva continues, “small changes in big countries mean that small countries can have high hopes.”