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320. The future of FT4All

When we announced here back in May that CRS would support a Fair Trade for All pilot project with independent smallholder farmers in Colombia, we identified “influence” as a leading motivation:

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

Nearly six months later, the project has ended.  And while our aspirations for influence have not waned, they have been tempered by circumstances in the field in Colombia: the conditions under which the pilot was implemented did not position CRS – or any other actor involved – to contribute meaningfully to any rigorous quantitative assessment of impact.

CRS does believe, however, that the qualitative observations and recommendations we will publish in the coming days, which are based on our experience with the pilot, can contribute to the responsible evolution of Fair Trade for All’s engagement with independent smallholder farmers.  We hope they can influence the design and implementation of future pilot projects with independent smallholder farmers in other countries to increase the likelihood of genuine farmer empowerment.

Pilot summary.

Before I get to our observations and recommendations below, it may be helpful to summarize what it was that we actually supported on the ground in Colombia.

Fair Trade USA’s independent smallholder standard calls for the certification of Market Access Partners – local organizations that can export coffee, link Registered Producers in the coffeelands to Fair Trade buyers in the marketplace, and support processes of farmer organization, farmer empowerment and community development over a period of as long as six years.  Prior to our engagement with the pilot process, Fair Trade USA had already identified a local coffee exporter as a Market Access Partner — a company we happened to already be partnered with on our Borderlands Coffee Project.

With third-party funding, FTUSA and the Market Access Partner collaborated to help a few hundred smallholder farmers in two municipalities in the north of Nariño prepare for certification. Months later, they initiated a second phase of work with a few hundred more farmers in a handful of villages in the western highlands of Nariño.  We were not involved in the design or implementation of either of these efforts.

Later, we contributed $32,000 to fill a funding gap in the second phase of the project.  We also arranged, as a condition of our support, for the Market Access Partner to incorporate 100 farmers participating in our Borderlands project into the second phase of the Fair Trade pilot.  Why?  Because the second phase of the Fair Trade pilot was already underway when we began supporting it, meaning we would not be able to collect the kinds of robust baseline data for pilot participants we felt we would need in order to later evaluate the project’s impact in any credible way.  Since we did conduct a rigorous baseline survey in the pilot area as part of our Borderlands project, we knew that we could rely on that data set to assess the impacts of the FT4All pilot at least for those 100 farmers.

Both pilots were short-term interventions of a few months’ duration, designed to help participating farmers prepare for and pass initial Fair Trade audits, earn certification, and become eligible to sell into the U.S. market for Fair Trade Certified coffee.  Neither of the projects included funding for post-certification work with participating farmers.

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This post is the first in a three-part series on The Future of Fair Trade for All.

Next: Observations on the FT4All pilot. >>


  • Hi Michael,

    Just to clarify from our part, the pilot work we are doing in Narino continues. Our work has not ended there and we continue collaborating with organizations there (Avina, Fundes) and with the small-scale farmers participating in this work.

    FYI as part of this, Fundes is also creating an independent report on what is working and what needs to improve. We look forward to learning from all the partners collaborating in this pilot on what needs to improve in this work since we will still have another year of work in Narino before we have a better idea if these standards and the certification process is really creating significant impact to the small-scale farmers participating in our pilot.

    We continue working in our impact assessment process (quantitative and qualitative) for this pilot and have requested feedback from different parties (including CRS) for this process. We believe in the feedback from different stakeholders for this process to make sure we include different voices on our approach.

    Thanks and I look forward to reading your future posts ,

    Miguel Zamora
    Fair Trade USA

    • Michael Sheridan says:


      Thank you for your comment and I apologize if I have been unclear — with two pilots and multiple funding sources, things can get confusing! When I wrote that the project has ended, I was referring to the second phase of the project in western Nariño funded by the International Organization for Migration and CRS, not the first phase of work involving Avina and Fundes. And there is in fact some ongoing work being done in the second phase of the project to help participating groups respond to the issues raised by Scientific Certification Systems in its Fair Trade audit. But the work on farmer organization and farm-level technical assistance delivered under the second phase of the project has ended. We will provide ongoing support for these and other activities for the farmers from the second phase who are also involved in our Borderlands project, but it is not clear where funding will come from for ongoing engagement with the rest of them.

      I am delighted to learn about Avina’s report on the first phase of the project. I look forward to seeing the results and comparing them with the findings from the second phase.

      And CRS does appreciate the opportunity to contribute along with others to FTUSA’s impact assessment process. We hope that our suggestions can help in the construction of a credible and workable approach that manages to “get ahead” of the next wave of projects with independent smallholders, with the collection of rigorous baseline data before the action begins on the ground.


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