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277. CRS is getting involved in an FT4All pilot. Here’s why.

2012-05-29 Comments Off on 277. CRS is getting involved in an FT4All pilot. Here’s why.

CRS is getting involved in a Fair Trade for All pilot project with independent smallholder farmers in Nariño, Colombia.  Here’s why.

We see three opportunities in our involvement:

INFLUENCING the system.

We believe we are uniquely positioned to independently document the impacts of FT4All’s pilots and influence the evolution of the Fair Trade model.

Perhaps the most important reason for engaging with this pilot process is the opportunity it gives us to document its impact on Fair Trade stakeholder groups at origin and influence the evolution of the Fair Trade model.

Both FTUSA’s faith that FT4All’s rising tide that lifts all boats, on the one hand, and the conviction among its opponents that it will undermine the well-being of coffee cooperatives, on the other, are beliefs rooted in ideas.  We believe that decisions on the future evolution of the Fair Trade system should be driven by results-based evidence.  And we believe that we are positioned to lead an effort to generate that evidence.  We will be working over the coming months to develop plans for an independent, transparent, system-wide impact assessment.  We plan to issue an open invitation to coffee producers, exporters, importers, roasters and activists to collaborate with us in the design and implementation of the study, whose results will be make publicly available to support industry actors and consumers in the decisions they make related to certification.

IMPACTING farmers.

We believe that the FT4All pilot can help us increase the impact of our Borderlands Coffee Project in Nariño.

Since our earliest outreach to smallholder coffee farmers in Nariño, two things have stood out.  The first is the absence of strong, independent smallholder cooperatives like the ones we have partnered with in our coffee work in Central America over the past decade.  Nariño is home to more than 30,000 coffee growers, but only one Fair Trade Certified cooperative with fewer than 300 members.  The second is how consistently farmers tell us they want our help in expanding the market options available to them.  We see in Fair Trade USA’s independent smallholder pilots already underway in Nariño an opportunity to simultaneously address both of these issues.

IMPROVING our performance.

We believe that the FT4All pilot process may help us better serve smallholder farmers in places where cooperatives fail to thrive.

CRS works with hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers in dozens of countries around the world.  Relatively few of them belong to cooperatives.  Even fewer are lucky enough to be participating in the Fair Trade market.  In most cases, we find ourselves fostering grassroots organizational processes to help large numbers of smallholder farmers access competitive markets.  There has not historically been a lot of interest from other supply chain actors in joining us in these efforts.  FT4All’s independent smallholder pilots address this development challenge with a unique “value proposition” that combines a guide for organization in the field with connections and incentives in the marketplace.

FT4All inverts the traditional incentive structure for organization.  Rather than offering Fair Trade premiums as the reward for years of effort organizing cooperatives, FT4All offers market access and FT premiums from day one, and a road map for a six-year process of organizational development for farmers who have not been well-served by coops.  We believe this approach may contribute to innovations that allow us to better serve smallholder farmers where there is no cooperative.

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We acknowledge that FTUSA’s FT4All has been the source of considerable controversy.  We have expressed our disappointment with the process by which FT4All came to be.  And we are deeply concerned about the certification of estates, which forces cooperatives to compete against the plantation model from which Fair Trade was designed to protect smallholders the first place.

IMPLICATIONS for our relationships.

We see our support for the FT4All pilot process in Nariño as a complement to our ongoing collaboration with fully committed Fair Trade Organizations.

Many of our partners and allies, both in the coffeelands and the United States, are fully committed Fair Trade Organizations that have opposed FTUSA’s withdrawal from FLO and FT4All’s inclusion of new stakeholder groups.  We respect their position on the changes in the Fair Trade system.  We honor both their commitment to the cooperative-only vision of Fair Trade coffee and their contributions to improve smallholder livelihoods in the coffeelands.  We continue to partner with and actively support both Fair Trade Certified cooperatives in the coffeelands and fully committed Fair Trade roasters in the United States.  We hope and trust that our involvement in the FT4All pilot in Colombia will not be an obstacle to continued collaboration with these valued partners, both in the field and the marketplace, to advance in our common pursuit of more a more just and sustainable trading system.