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.
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. >>