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Fairtrade is greener, too December 11, 2012

Posted by Andreas in Column, Environment.
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Fairtrade is greener, too

(This column was first published on 2012-12-10 at News24 here)

After doing some research on the impact of Fairtrade on farm workers and small farmers for Fairtrade Label South Africa recently, I argued that this growing movement represents a viable alternative to the very explosive labour relations that exist in parts of South Africa’s agricultural sector. I also discovered that it has an important environmental side to it.

Fairtrade is primarily motivated by social justice. It’s an ethical accreditation system that aims to raise the standard of living and promote social upliftment among small farmers and farm workers in the developing world by improving working conditions and providing access to global markets on a more equitable footing.

The Fairtrade development premium, for example, is a portion of the profits made from the sale of every Fairtrade product, which is democratically administered by the producers themselves and used for community development projects from building crèches to paying school and college fees.

While this may be the main reason why you prefer Fairtrade goods over conventional equivalents when you have the choice, there are additional green benefits that you may not have been aware of until now. Just as there are Fairtrade labour standards which are monitored through regular farm audits to guarantee decent working conditions, there are strict Fairtrade environmental standards that have to be met by accredited producers.


– champion sustainable farming methods to promote soil fertility and prevent erosion, such as cover-cropping, composting and mulching, as well encouraging producers to reduce, reuse and recycle farming inputs and resources;

– emphasise conservation, the protection of natural habitats and ecosystems and practices that protect and increase biodiversity;

– place strict regulations on the use of pesticides to minimise detrimental impacts on the environment and health risks to workers;

– encourage the efficient and sustainable use of water;

– ban genetically modified crops from Fairtrade farms;

– require that hazardous waste is safely disposed of; and

– define progressive standards for offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

The production of coffee and rooibos tea are two great examples showing how Fairtrade makes a difference to the lives of small-scale African farmers while simultaneously having environmental benefits.

Improve food security

The members of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union of southern Ethiopia produce over 25 000 tonnes of Fairtrade-certified Arabica coffee on small family farms annually, while their counterparts in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union cultivate Arabica on the slopes of Africa’s highest mountain. They do so without the use of synthetic agro-chemicals and receive training in sustainable farming practices, like composting the by-products of coffee production, employing indigenous plants for pest control, as well as utilising natural fertilisers and shade trees.

They’re also involved in local conservation efforts and intercrop their coffee plots with various food crops to enhance soil fertility and improve food security. Fairtrade coffee from both unions is available in South Africa, for example at Woolworths.

Their association with Fairtrade helps to make coffee production – the lifeblood of hundreds of thousands of families in the region – environmentally and economically sustainable at a time when it’s under substantial threat not only from low commodity prices on world markets, but also from climate change and deforestation.

Coffee is very sensitive to climate: as Kilimanjaro’s glaciers disappear, for instance, Tanzanian coffee planters are slowly being deprived of the melt water they depend on to irrigate their crop. Scientists have warned that wild Arabica may be extinct by 2080.

Barend Salomo, rooibos farmer and managing director of the Wupperthal Original Rooibos Cooperative (WORC) in the Cederberg says that without Fairtrade, the 90-odd members of the cooperative could not survive financially. He too, places a high premium on the environment: “There must be harmony between our activities and nature. So we can’t use every bit of land for rooibos farming and I think that’s easier to accomplish on small plots like ours rather than on large commercial fields.”

WORC farmers don’t irrigate their plots or apply synthetic chemicals, and they cultivate and harvest by hand. Their tea, along with other Fairtrade rooibos, is available locally.

By purchasing Fairtrade accredited products you’ll not only be supporting farm workers and small farmers, but more eco-friendly farming methods as well.

– Andreas freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Climate change: An update December 5, 2012

Posted by Andreas in Climate change, Column, Environment, Global warming.
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Climate change: An update

(This column was first published on 2012-11-26 at News24 here)

There has been overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change for years. A recent survey found that out of 13 950 peer-reviewed scientific papers published on the topic between the beginning of 1991 and the beginning of last month, only 24 argued against human-induced global warming.

The amount of research generated in this field is massive, but little of it ever makes it into the mainstream media (I don’t know if that’s because editors are bored with the subject or just overwhelmed by it), which is why I thought it would be a useful exercise to highlight a few of the most recent findings and forecasts. This is by no means a comprehensive review, merely a bullet-pointed précis to give you an inkling of how much trouble we’re in. Click on the links for more details on the assorted items.

– Records of average global temperatures show a consistent warming trend for the last three decades and according to the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation, 2012 is expected to be the ninth warmest year since records began in 1880.

– Atmospheric CO2 concentrations reached a record high of 390.9 parts per million in 2011 – that’s a 40% increase since the start of the industrial revolution.

– Ice is melting ever more rapidly in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

– Sea level rose by about 3.2mm per year between 1993 and 2011, significantly faster than previously estimated. Highlighting the long-term impacts of climate change, worst-case scenarios predict up to 6.8 metres of sea level rise by the year 3000.

– This year, the inhabitants of Vunidogoloa on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu became some of the first people in the world to be relocated to higher ground because seal level rise has made their seaside village uninhabitable.

– The destruction of mangrove forests, salt marshes, sea grass beds and other coastal ecosystems releases between 150 million and 1.02 billion tons of CO2 annually, several times more than previously thought.

– The world’s largest reinsurance company, MunichRe, has warned that risk from climate change related natural disasters is rising globally and local insurers agree. Insured losses from such events have risen from $9bn in the 1980s to $36bn in the 2000s.

– Significantly reduced rainfall during Asia’s annual monsoon season is predicted for the next two centuries with potentially devastating impacts on agriculture in the region.

– In November, the planet’s most powerful investors, managing some $22.5 trillion between them, wrote an open letter to the governments of major countries, warning that climate change is a major threat to the world economy.

– Slashing 1.6% off the global GDP, climate change has been estimated to cost the world economymore than $1.2 trillion every year and according to a recent World Bank report, it’s the poorest countries that will suffer most.

– The effects of climate change on the world’s oceans are forecast to lead to a severe drop in fish stocks and a shrinkage of 14-24% in the size of adult fishes by 2050.

– Pollen counts are expected to more than double by 2040 and in combination with highly allergenic new strains of pollen from invasive species, hay fever season may be extended by weeks.

– With the disappearance of much of the bamboo they feed on, the natural habitat of the giant panda in China may be lost by the end of the century.

– Diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks, fungi and algae, including Lyme disease, the West Nile virus, Chikungunya Fever, Rift Valley Fever and Dengue Fever are already spreading to areas where they were not found in the past.

– The collapse of the southern Caribbean’s sardine fisheries during the past decade has been linked to climate change.

– Wild Arabica coffee, indigenous to East Africa, may become extinct within 70 years.

– While warming temperatures and increased levels of CO2 in the air may improve agricultural production in some regions, an 8% average decrease in the yield of eight major crops, including maize, millet, sorghum and wheat, is predicted for Africa and South Asia by the 2050s.

 Andreas freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath