We need to protect farmers and workers in developing countries from the worst effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Smallholder farmers and farm workers, including Fairtrade farmers, supplying global food and clothing supply chains, are at high risk of illness and mortality from COVID-19.
We all know the problems here. What hope then for poorer countries, which struggle to provide adequate health care or social protection even before the arrival of this highly contagious virus. We’ve all seen the grim statistics: Central African Republic has just three ventilators for its five million people; Uganda has more government ministers than intensive care beds; ten African countries have none at all. Richer countries have been able to finance crisis measures by borrowing cheaply, an option not available to poor countries without adding heavily to the debts they already owe. The farmers and workers we work with are already among the world’s poorest people, living in communities with weak or non-existent safety nets, inadequate health care, safe water and sanitation, and at risk of hunger and malnutrition. Without help, the UN estimates upwards of half a billion people will be pushed into poverty due to this crisis.
The organization warns that the crisis is disrupting global supply chains. Lockdowns in importing countries, whilst necessary for public safety, are resulting in a rapid and severe drop in orders in some supply chains. This has led to heavy job and income losses amongst groups who were already vulnerable, and will increase poverty unless urgent support is given.
In Kenya, for example, tens of thousands of flower workers have lost their jobs, with no local work alternatives, and there is growing concern about the long-term financial stability of flower farms. A similar situation is happening in Ecuador, where flower workers have started to be layoff or put on hold by organizations due to low sales. Meanwhile, the price of tea in both India and Sri Lanka, already low, is reported to have plunged by almost 40% due to reduced demand.
Global sales of Fairtrade products total around $9bn a year, but Fairtrade producer organizations stand to lose around $380m a year in Fairtrade Premium if they are unable to sell their products. Even if demand for imports does resume, developing countries themselves have begun, or are likely to begin, their own lockdown measures, which will lead to further losses of employment or income unless special assistance is given to farmers and workers.
The United Nations and child rights organisations are calling the COVID-19 pandemic a disaster for millions of children. School closures, coupled with limits on migrant labour, mean that boys and girls are more vulnerable to child labour. If parents become infected with the virus, children and youth, particularly girls, may end up assuming greater responsibilities for their family’s survival. Longer term, the economic downturn will drive even more people into poverty and, as a likely result, more children into child labour.
A call to world leaders
The Fairtrade Foundation has also joined other organisations in the call by former Presidents and Prime Ministers, together with NGOs including Oxfam and Save the Children, for a coordinated G20 response to the Covid-19 crisis. They are demanding increased aid to help countries through the coronavirus crisis and also for debt relief.
Darío Soto Abril, Chief Executive Officer of Fairtrade International says “We urge G20 leaders to push for a comprehensive response to this crisis for low income countries across five areas where action is needed. The Fairtrade movement supports around 10 million people in total and we stand ready to be a partner to minimize the impact of this crisis on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
“By supporting producers through this emergency, both economically and in public health, we will support G20 food security during the crisis and in recovery. Now, more than ever, the G20 has a huge shared interest in ensuring the resilience and sustainability of global supply chains.”
How Fairtrade is helping
Fairtrade organisations have taken steps to protect the incomes of staff and producers. “We have relaxed the rules on using financial premiums so it can be spent on PPE, soap and hand sanitisers, as well as food parcels and cash to support farmers and their families. We’re working hard with our commercial partners to find solutions for the supply chains being hit the hardest, and to ensure people get the support they need. In Columbia, Fairtrade banana producers have contributed towards an emergency Covid-19 testing centre set up by the local university. Sports ball producers in Pakistan have sewn face masks for their communities from cotton reserves in their factories. In Peru, coffee co-operatives are providing food supplies to the elderly and most vulnerable in their communities”. See more here