Small-holder farmers are celebrating this year. 4500 growers of cashew, coconut, coffee and spices amongst many crops, all very small scale (a couple of hectares), are collectively Fair Trade Alliance Kerala (FTAK). The alliance was formed in 2005, to address twin threats of farm debt and poverty both on the increase at that time and characterised in the extreme at times by the tragedy of farmer suicides. Each year since then it gets stronger, a collaboration between farmers, promoters and consumers, defending the Kerala Development Model and using Fair Trade as a market tool to secure a strong sustainable business.
The Onam celebration marks the annual distribution of price additional to the market. This year INR 11 million or $189,655 from cashew sales in to Fair Trade markets in Europe and USA. Fairtrade premiums (certified by Fairtrade International) make up an additional INR 5 million.
This is the true inspiration. They are proud not just for the their own individual achievements as farming families managing the yearly risks but for that of the system as a whole and for all the cashew farmers of the region who have also indirectly benefitted from higher seasonal prices due to the associations strength and market share of the their supply chain. The security of a Fairtrade consumer market has added value to their crop and empowered many families.
Whilst you can read more about their Fairtrade story on the pages of the UK Fairtrade Foundation or on brands that sell their product such as Liberation CIC, the wider farmer story is the one that goes on 365 days a year on their small homestead farms.
The glut of cashews collected at peak season gave power to processors who traded down prices well below cost of production as farmers became price takers. They had little choice and for some the stress was too much. Now with guaranteed contracts and pre-season finance flowing before harvest, FTAK and their supply chain partners can negotiate above market prices for the entire crop. Committed consumers are very happy to pay a small premium at retail to secure the deals.
Individual farmers in turn, trust the integrity of their Association and such is market share, local farm gate prices were estimated to be 30% higher at peak season. Now there are 40,000 small holder families farming cashews in the northern districts of Kerala producing between them around 30 million Kilograms of raw cashew nuts. The additional benefit the cashew farmers at large received because of the presence of FTAK intervening strategically in the market is about USD 0.30 per kg. This is an addition of nearly INR 450 million or USD 7.7 million in to the local economy this cashew season … just how much indirect benefit is Fair Trade bringing!
Surely changing the paradigm like this is the true value and strength of Fair Trade when organisations leverage power beyond the personal bargaining of individuals to compete with businesses and bringing benefits to the many.
Empowerment has developed fast, their Fairtrade+3 policy is beginning to address the wider regional issues of biodiversity, gender equality and food security. Also, having learnt that most value is accrued by businesses ahead of them in the chain, the farmers and their supporters now have confidence to launch their own brand into the Indian market, spearheaded by high quality organic coconut oil. What a fantastic example to farmers everywhere!