Fighting Poverty Through Trade

producer_india_narmaben2

producer_india_narmaben2

Traidcraft, a UK-based fair trade organization, established in 1979  fights poverty through trade, helping people in developing countries to transform their lives. In India, Traidcraft works to create demonstration models with farmers and engages in advocacy of issues that adversely impact small farmers.

neeti_malhotra

neeti_malhotra

Traidcraft earlier this year helped launch the fair trade label ‘Shop for Change’ in India, with a focus on cotton as the lead protect. According to Country Director for Traidcraft Exchange’s India Country Programme, Neeti Malhotra, at the trade and support levels, the positive impact of Traidcraft’s work has been through the collectivization of small farmers, giving them an identity and thereby increasing their power of negotiation in the market, accessing business services, and achieving economies of scale.

At the influence level, she believes collective operations have enabled farmers to feel empowered to advocate and lobby for their issues and effect policy change.

In an interview with Make Cotton Sustainable, Neeti Malhotra says “Farmers now realize their own importance in supply chains and are also able to raise their voices on several policy issues.”

Why are Cotton farmers important to Traidcraft?

Traidcraft specializes in equipping the poor with business and enterprise skills, and lobbying and advocacy skills that enable them to improve their lives. We have over 25 years expertise in South Asia based upon tried and tested practical interventions.

Cotton farmers are important to Traidcraft because of the sheer size of the sector worldwide and the very large number of small and poor farmers who grow cotton in agriculturally difficult regions of the world – i.e. arid and semi arid.  In two of the countries that Traidcraft works in – Kenya and India, cotton is one of the major crops and millions of farmers are dependent on it.

Over 15 million Indian farmers and their families rely on cotton for their livelihoods. However small cotton farmers are disorganised and unable to wield any political power.

Most Indian agricultural policies that relate to the cotton sector (such as the Minimum Support Price, procurement, marketing, credit, input support etc.), do not favour small farmers. For example, chemical fertilisers are very expensive. Subsidies are paid to the companies and are not passed to the farmers.  In addition, these huge subsidies have encouraged the indiscriminate use of chemical fertilisers, which has resulted in the degradation of natural resources, especially soil, and is now threatening the food security of the country.

Small cotton farmers also face a number of other problems which make it hard for them to earn a sustainable livelihood: they face ever-increasing costs which are pushing many into debt; they are too poor to invest in new technology; they face low productivity and yields due to poor soil quality and poor quality seeds; they suffer from poor health and nutrition which reduces the time they can spend earning income; they face expensive and exploitative local credit and inputs (such as pesticides and seeds); and they lack any sort of safety net. Erratic weather patterns in the shape of unprecedented droughts or flash floods due to climate change have increased their vulnerability even more. In the face of so many problems an estimated 200,000 farmers, many of them cotton farmers, have committed suicide in India since 2003 – and this trend shows no sign of stopping. (On average there has been one farmer suicide every 32 minutes since 2003.) Small cotton farmers need practical interventions to help them develop more sustainable cultivation.


Who are your partners in India?

In the cotton sector, Traidcraft has been working with Agrocel for over a decade now.  Our other partners in the cotton sector include, Shop for Change (Mumbai) SEVA (in Raichur) and the Nav Nirman Trust (in Raichur).  Through a Cotton Forum that we have recently initiated, we are networking with other NGOs including Chethna Organic, Chethana Society, Zameen Organic, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Oxfam, Organic Exchange, among others.

What is your vision for Traidcraft as an organisation?

Traidcraft’s India office is a liaison office working as the representative of its main office in the UK.  Given our limited role and the size of our operations, Traidcraft sees itself playing the role of a catalyst to bring together like-minded organizations on a common platform and facilitate their working together with each others’ strengths towards a common mission of reducing poverty.

What geographies are you working in on Cotton in India?

At present, the India Cotton project developed by Traidcraft UK is being implemented by project partners (local Indian NGOs) in the Raichur district of Karnataka.  This project is funded by UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). Along with partners, we do demonstrative projects but through platforms like the Cotton Forum, we are covering a larger geographic area by influencing action and policy level work. Our future plans on cotton are geared around the main cotton growing regions in the country particularly central and southern India.

What are the positive impacts you have created and how do you measure them?

Traidcraft works at three levels – trading (access to markets), support (technical and business services training & consultancy), and influence (policy change).

At the trade and support levels, the positive impact of Traidcraft’s work has been through the collectivization of small farmers, giving them an identity and thereby increasing their power of negotiation in the market, accessing business services, and achieving economies of scale.  Where there is a choice of fairtrade markets and fairtrade certification, farmers are able to

get a fairtrade premium for their crop which has benefitted their community.  Through provision of appropriate services and related training, the costs of production has  reduced due to better and environment friendly agricultural practices.  This is measured against the baseline data collected in each ‘project’.

At the influence level, collective operations have also enabled farmers to feel empowered to advocate and lobby for addressing their issues and effect policy change.  Farmers now realize their own importance in supply chains and are also able to raise their voices on several policy issues.

In January this year, Traidcraft helped launch a fair trade label ‘Shop for Change’ in India with a focus on cotton as the lead product.  This has and will bring in a number of private sector organisations to join the movement to create fair trade supply chains in India.  We have also begun to build a consumer movement around fair trade to strengthen the demand side of these supply chains.

This is supported by advocacy at the international levels, interactions with UK companies (through the Ethical Trading Initiative and Fairtrade Foundation), and sharing learning across the regions where we work.


What role do you think the private sector players e.g retailers can play to catalyse this effort?

Private sector players along all parts of the cotton supply chain are critical to sustainable change through their good practices and ensuring that they keep development at the heart of their business operations.
Traidcraft plc which is a leading fair trade organisation in the UK does this by example.  Therefore, working with private sector companies e.g. seed companies and retailers can play a very important role in ensuring the interests of small cotton farmers are taken care of.

If, for instance, retailers agree to promote products made of certified (whether organic or fairtrade) cotton and educate consumers regarding the benefits of these products to the farmers, farmers can be assured of better prices, assured markets and cultivation practices that are not harmful to their health and that of their families.  Similarily, if seed companies commit themselves to a ban on the use of child labour in seed production, a very unfair practice would stop.  Seed companies (as their social responsibility) could support this through better wages to the farmer families (so that they are not tempted or forced to send their children for work) and ensuring educational opportunities for the children of the farmers working for them.

Photo Courtesy: Traidcraft

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