Interview: What does fairtrade mean for cocoa farmers? - Part 2

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Fair Trade Insights

In part two of our interview with Patrick Eboe, Managing Director of gebana Togo, and Michael Stamm from the gebana Development Team, we talk about poverty, minimum prices and our local activities aimed at helping to improve the situation.

Michael Stamm (links) und Patrick Eboe (rechts).

Michael Stamm (left) and Patrick Eboe (right).

gebana: In the film, farmers say that they receive very little benefit from fairtrade certification and are still very poor. What's it like for cocoa farmers in Togo?

Michael Stamm: Our cocoa farmers in Togo are poor, that is the reality. This is mainly because they have very small plots of land – they only own around 0.75 ha on average. But they earn more in comparison with other local farmers. This is because they can secure additional income by farming cocoa. They can harvest around 350 kg of organic cocoa per year, for which they currently earn around EUR 540. This is a little less than one month's salary in Togo. But we also have to consider that is not their full-time job and it is not very labour intensive, even during the harvest season. The farmers mainly practice subsistence agriculture on their land: They produce most of the food for their families on their own and sell part of their yields at the local market. And because they only farm small plots of land, they don't pay any costs for additional labour. Instead, the neighbours and families help each other out.

So how much does gebana actually pay – and how does that compare with the prices that conventional farmers (who are not certified organic or fairtrade) receive?

Michael Stamm: We pay a 10% premium for organic cocoa over and above the conventional cocoa price. The fairtrade premium is another 12%. It is not paid out directly, but instead goes to the cooperative and is earmarked for projects that help the farmers and the community. Overall, cocoa prices are the same throughout West Africa. However, the cost of living in a country such as the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire is much higher than in Togo. Which is why the income from growing cocoa in Togo is more attractive for farmers.

Kakao Schoten

Fairtrade certification guarantees a minimum price if the market price falls sharply. Is it ever applied?

Patrick Eboe: Oh yes! For example, the global market price fell below this level between October 2017 and July 2018. This presented us with an entirely different set of challenges: Although we had a lot of cocoa, we had to deal with more and more pesticide problems. Since our purchase price was higher than the market price, some actors in the delivery chain purchased additional conventionally grown cocoa from other sources in order to earn extra money. And they did so despite our monitoring system and direct purchasing. This demonstrates the complexity of working with many small farmers scattered throughout regions that are difficult to access.

In the film, we also hear about how uncertified cocoa gets smuggled into fairtrade certified shipments.

Patrick Eboe: Unfortunately, this does happen. As a result, we have further increased and improved monitoring and traceability over the past year. We can now trace virtually every kilo of cocoa beans right back to the farmer.

FLO will increase the Fairtrade Minimum Price from USD 2,300/tonne to USD 2,700/tonne in October this year. Are you concerned about the potential negative impact on the demand for your cocoa? There is criticism in the film over the fact that the farmer groups are already unable to sell their entire yield as fairtrade-certified goods.

Michael Stamm: We are all for this increase because it's good for the farmers! And as far as we are concerned, we are among the few in West Africa who have both organic and FLO Fairtrade certification. Which is why the demand for our cocoa is so high. So we have nothing to worry about.

That's all well and good, but what specific measures is gebana taking to improve the situation of the farmers?

Michael Stamm: We are constantly working on it. It is a process, and it doesn't happen overnight. We are helping farmers improve their cultivation methods. This in turn leads to better quality and higher yields. According to our estimates, the farmers we work with in Togo can even double their yields with the right measures.

Patrick Eboe: Our farmers have old trees that are vulnerable to pests. So we have already built a nursery and distributed several thousand seedlings. But we also want to protect the old trees that are already there, which is why we are striving to improve organic methods.

Michael Stamm: The gebana Development Team is currently working on a programme that will transfer more money from gebana's direct sales over to the farmers – we will share more information about this later in the year. But we also need wholesale customers who enter into long-term contracts and commitments. We can't get by without them.

Patrick Eboe: Our goal at gebana Togo is to enable farmers to achieve a good standard of living from cocoa farming. This is the only way for young people to stay on the land and consider cocoa farming as an occupation with long-term prospects.

Speaking of prospects: The film also touches on school attendance for the children of farmers and child labour, which is another important and critical point. What is the situation for the farmers who work with gebana?

Michael Stamm: The farmers are able to pay for their children's schooling with the income from cocoa farming. Our cocoa farmers are aware of the importance of education. They all send their kids to school, and some of them even make it to university.

Patrick Eboe: We are not involved in any kind of child labour in which children are forced to work outside of their own families, much less abroad. As we already mentioned, the farming families here only have small plots of land and help each other out. But some of the farm children do lend a hand when they're not in school, especially at harvest time. The cocoa harvest happens to be during the summer holidays.

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