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244. FTUSA releases Independent Smallholders Standard

Fair Trade USA has released a draft of its Independent Smallholders Standard (ISS) along with a four-page primer, officially opening the period of public review and comment on the way it proposes to bring smallholder farmers not currently organized into cooperatives into the U.S. Fair Trade market for the first time.   I will be conferring in the coming weeks with CRS colleagues on the ISF standards as we prepare our public comment.  That group will include people with diverse specializations (agronomy, agroenterprise, climate change, Fair Trade, etc.) from around the world (Central and South America, the Caribbean, East Africa, the United States, etc.).  In the meantime, here are my own initial impressions.

There is a lot to digest, and I struggled to find the best way to organize and present my thinking.  In the end, I am not sure I succeeded in coming up with a particularly good approach.

I have summarized the basics here.  In order to keep this post from getting too unwieldy, I have separately published several other related posts today on different aspects of the ISS.


WHO: Independent Smallholders and Market Access Partners.

The Standard revolves primarily around the terms of collaboration between independent smallholders (variously defined as “small farms that are predominantly family run” and “farmers that own small parcels of land but are not organized into cooperatives or assocations”) and the Market Access Partners (“usually an exporter, processor or NGO”) that commit to helping smallholders market their coffee and build independent organizations over time.

Other key actors in the ISS include:

  • Fair Trade Officer: appointed by the Market Access Partner to oversee relations with registered smallholders
  • Registered smallholders: individual farmers duly registered by a Market Access Partner and formally participating in the Fair Trade system
  • Fair Trade Committee: formed by registered farmers with the support of the Market Access Partner, its members are chosen in “free, fair and transparent elections”
  • Administrative Organization(s): formed by the Fair Trade Committee to administer the Fair Trade Premium and possibly assume additional responsibilities including support for coffee production and marketing; the Administrative Organization is the body that FTUSA envisions as the potential precursor to a formal cooperative that would meet current FLO standards for smallholder certification — a possible but not required outcome of the farmer organization processes the ISS puts in place; the Fair Trade Committee and Administrative Organization are the key intermediaries bewteen registered smallholders and the Market Access Partner


WHAT: FTUSA’s vision of a path to empowerment for independent smallholders.

The Standard’s 135 criteria frame a long-term vision of farmer empowerment that involves the gradual and collaborative development of smallholder farmer organizational capacity over a period of six years.  That process begins modestly, with a pretty short list of minimum “dos” and “don’ts” for smallholder farmers to qualify for certification, and some initial steps  at collective action for community development and social organization facilitated by Market Access Partners.  Over time, both registered farmers and Market Access Partners assume more responsibility across the board, with a particular focus on layering in new commitments around farmer organization to achieve empowerment.


HOW: Minimum and Progress criteria on the road to empowerment.

The ISS uses the familiar nomenclature of minimum criteria (what independent smallholders and Market Access Partners have to do now to qualify for certification) and progress requirements (what they can put off until later).


WHEN & WHERE: Right now in Nariño, Colombia.

According to an article published in the February 2012 issue of Fresh Cup magazine, FTUSA is already working on its first independent smallholder pilot in Nariño, Colombia, with more to follow.

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Read other posts related to the FTUSA Independent Smallholders Standard.



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