Fair Trade farmer works to replant coconut trees

Fair Trade farmer works to replant coconut trees

Amid the coconut boom, Fair Trade certification empowers farmers and workers to improve their lives and protect the environment.

Although coconut products are booming in popularity, the individuals producing them are not always reaping the rewards. There is a significant gap between skyrocketing sales in North America and poverty level incomes earned by farmers in key coconut producing economies. In the Philippines, one of the world’s leading coconut producers, an estimated 60 percent of small-scale coconut farmers live in poverty.

Some of the most important challenges faced by coconut farmers include:

  • Extreme poverty: Coconut farmers are among the poorest of the poor in countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which threatens the sustainability of coconut farming as a livelihood. Low and volatile farm gate prices, low productivity, and a lack of diversified sources of income perpetuate poverty among coconut farming communities and limit their ability to access important resources such as quality food, education, sufficient healthcare, fair credit, etc.
  • Unfavorable and variable prices: An average single-serving coconut water from a leading brand sells for around $1.50 in the United States, yet farmers receive about $0.11-0.20 per nut. Extreme volatility of these farm gate nut prices make it difficult for farmers to plan and smooth their consumption over time and harvests.
  • Low yields and declining productivity: Particularly as coconut trees age, their yields decline significantly. Many of the world’s coconut producing trees are 50-60 years old, well beyond productive years. This results in declining overall supply and income for farmers, many of whom lack the necessary resources and technical assistance to replant unproductive trees.
  • Environmental vulnerability: A recent United Nations report identified the Philippines as the third-most at-risk from climate change in the world, meaning farmers are often subject to the damaging effects of violent weather and pests.
Coconut School Feeding Project

Fair Trade coconuts help to feed children healthy meals in schools

Fair Trade certification aims to address these and other issues by helping coconut farmers to develop sustainable livelihoods and strong communities, and to become better stewards of the land. One way this happens is through the rigorous Fair Trade standards—covering areas like child and forced labor, safe working conditions, water conservation and proper waste disposal. Another way is through the Fair Trade Community Development Premium. On top of the sale price, farmers earn an additional premium for each coconut sold. These funds are collectively maintained by the farmers and invested in community projects that address critical needs such as improved healthcare, food security, education, agricultural training and business development. Here is an overview of some projects farmers have already invested in to address the biggest issues they face.

  • Education

School supplies – to ensure children have proper materials to be productive in school
Scholarships – to subsidize tuition fees and higher education costs for children of farmers

  • Healthy Communities

School feeding program – to ensure nutritious meals for children in the community
Water purification station – to improve access to clean water for the entire community
Community rice buying and retailing program – to improve access to quality food staples

  • Resilient and Supportive Communities

Disaster fund – to help farmers to recover more quickly from unexpected disaster, like typhoons
Burial assistance – to support funeral costs for members that pass away

  • Sustainable and Productive Farms

Livestock program – to support transportation of coconuts from farm to buyer
Tree replanting program – to ensure productive farms and sustainable livelihoods for years to come

  • Financial Sustainability and Livelihood Development

Micro-lending program – to provide funds with nominal interest to farmers to start their own businesses and cover emergencies
Decorticating Machine – to enable farmers to earn additional income from processing coconut husks

Fair Trade is also a way for companies to build strong, reliable, transparent supply chains that foster long-term relationships with farmers. And, it’s an opportunity for consumers to choose high-quality products that also improve lives and protect the environment.

Coconut fiber processing center

We are proud to offer Fair Trade Certified coconut products to create new economic opportunities for coconut farmers across the globe,” said Nora Pittenger, Fair Trade USA’s Senior Manager for Consumer Packaged Goods. “With demand for coconuts on the rise, Fair Trade USA is empowering consumers and businesses to choose products that not only taste good, but also do good.

Fair Trade USA, the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in North America, announced the launch of Fair Trade Certified coconut products into the global market in February 2014. Beginning with coconut waters and oils, Fair Trade USA welcomes the versatile nut into its offerings with the aim of improving the lives of small-scale coconut farmers, and protecting workers in coconut processing facilities. The first Fair Trade Certified coconut products to hit store shelves include: Naked Coconut Water (1 liter), Nutiva Virgin Coconut Oil (15 and 23 oz. glass), as well as Nutiva’s O’Coconut Treats. Recently launched products include: Arrowhead Mills coconut flour, Rice and Shine Cereal and Spectrum Coconut Oil.

Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, the Category 5 storm that hit central Philippines on November 8, 2013 with its 195 mph winds and 13 foot storm surges, was the first storm of this magnitude to ever make landfall. But it certainly won’t be the last.

Unfortunately, the Philippines is no stranger to such disasters. This is the third year in a row that a destructive typhoon has pummeled through the archipelago. In 2011, Tropical Storm Sendong/Washi brought about torrential rainfall causing flash floods and mudslides resulting in over 1,200 fatalities. The following year, Super Typhoon Bopha/Pablo, a Category 5 storm with 175 mph winds flattened villages in the Mindanao region of the Philippines leaving over 1,000 dead. Now barely 11 months later, the forces of nature have once again claimed even more lives in the Philippines with fatalities estimated at 2,344 and counting, with 600,000 people displaced.

On top of all that, since the Philippines lies in a very volatile area in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, it ranks as the third most disaster prone country in the world, with the constant threat of volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, typhoons, and earthquakes ever looming. Typhoon Haiyan is actually the 24th tropical storm to hit the country in 2013 alone. To make matters worse, decades of deforestation, large-scale mining, and stripping the land of its natural elements have eroded the country’s capacity to weather these storms.  So, I was not kidding when I said that the island nation is no stranger to such disasters, and climate change is exacerbating this already dire situation. 

As the planet warms and the climate changes, scientists say that storms will become stronger with average intensities increasing by 11 percent by the end of the century. It is hard to ignore the fact that the Philippines is a low-lying country in warm ocean waters with sea surface temperatures having risen nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, at a rate that’s 15 times faster than it used to be. And these warm waters tend to feed and make storms stronger. Then there is the fact that the levels of the Philippine Sea has been rising at a faster rate than others at 10mm/yearand these rapidly rising sea levels make flooding worse and results in deadly storm surges, which caused a majority of Haiyan’s destruction.

While we grapple with the latest devastation in the Philippines, we cannot continue to ignore all the other environmentally vulnerable nations who are bearing the brunt of climate change as well. It is lead Filipino climate negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño speaking at the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19) in Warsaw, Poland, who is making sure we don’t.

In his moving speech at the opening session of COP19 three days after the storm hit on Monday, November 11 (and one year after he made a similar speech at COP18 when Typhoon Bopha hit),  Saño points out that

“…climate change will mean increased potential for more intense tropical storms and this will have profound implications on many communities, especially who struggle against the twin challenges of the development crisis and the climate change crisis. Typhoons such as Haiyan and its impacts represent a sobering reminder to the international community that we cannot afford to delay climate action.”

“…To anyone outside who continues to deny the reality that is climate change, I dare them, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs. I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling sea ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water become scarce.

Not to forget the monster hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard of North America as well as the fires that razed Down Under. And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”

We will continue to see these drastic effects brought about by climate change until concrete action can be taken. Yeb Saño, along with other delegates at COP19, have taken a stand and have vowed to go on a hunger strike in solidarity with the starving masses in the Philippines until real action toward addressing climate change is made: ending dirty energy subsidies, drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels, and protecting vulnerable nations by committing funds to help them adapt to inevitable climatic changes.

And as we wait to see how the climate change negotiations unfold over the next two weeks, thousands of Filipinos anxiously await word from family members in the Philippines, including myself. The storm may have passed, but now the real struggle begins as communities figure out how to stand up and once again rebuild an already fragile world.


Looking for ways to help?

Looking for loved ones in the Philippines?