Recent news has shone a light on the worrying state of farming in the UK. Hitting the headlines has been a multitude of food security concerns, from tomatoes to cucumbers either missing from shelves or on ration. Tipped by the government spokesperson as a simple seasonal eating problem that’s solved by a dietary transition to becoming “climavores” aka eating with the climate, the issues are much more complex than that. As it’s Fairtrade Fortnight this week, it’s a topic Fairtrade UK has decided to amplify for 2023.
In a new Fairtrade report created in tandem with the sustainability advisors at 3Keel, it’s been revealed that our favourite chocolate bars, beloved coffee breaks and top breakfast treat, banana bread, could soon become a thing of the past. Dubbed “The Endangered Aisle”, in the not too distant future our supermarket shelves could be totally transformed. Forget the egg and toilet roll shortages of 2020, this would be an entire overhaul of access to fresh fruit and vegetables on a much more permanent basis.
But why now? The UK’s supply chain for these food staples and treats relies upon a multitude of countries, including Kenya, Ghana, Colombia and Brazil. As climate change continues to develop globally, these countries are now vulnerable to extreme weather changes that are affecting the stability of these foodie products, along with tackling other issues like deforestation and biodiversity loss.
In lighter news, the report discovered that 60% of Brits would be “devastated” if at-risk products like lattes and chocolate treats disappeared from the shelves. Though this might raise an initial smile, the outcome of the collapse of the coffee, chocolate or banana trade would be far more devastating for the farmers supporting it. More than 90% of Fairtrade Kenyan coffee farmers surveyed stated they’re already experiencing the troubling effects of climate change including strong and unpredictable rainfall, and an increase in difficult farming issues like coffee berry disease. Whilst for us in the UK it might mean a different treat or hot drink, for these farmers it’s the very real potential of their entire livelihood wiped out. Over 350,000 tonnes of cocoa imported to the UK each year originates from countries where production faces climate change and loss of critical ecosystems. Pile on rising energy costs and there’s a recipe for food loss disaster where farmers can no longer afford to produce our food or indeed invest in the tools they need to adapt to the changing demands of the environment.
At the same time energy costs are making farmers' lives more difficult than ever, the report also noted that it’s front of mind for consumers now on the weekly shop. 43% agreed that paying their energy bills is a bigger concern than climate change in these troubling times. The all-consuming pressure of the cost-of-living crisis is not only adding stress to family life, but now stress testing the planet too as cost is prioritised over the climate. Price is tipped as a key factor in not buying sustainably sourced items for half of Brits (50%). It’s easy to understand that when you consider, for the first time, The Trussell Trust food charity distributed 2.1 million emergency food parcels across the UK in 2021-2022. Eating organic, choosing Fairtrade or selecting sustainably slip down on the priority list when food security is facing a historic number of families.
And sometimes seeing is believing and that’s why Fairtrade has supported the launch of the report with an immersive pop-up space titled “The Endangered Aisle” demonstrating what the supermarkets of tomorrow could look like. Cue empty jars and barren shelves. But there are still ways to support these struggling farmers and communities before it goes past the point of no return. A quarter of people (23%) surveyed stated they’re worried about climate change, but not sure what they can do to help. The idea behind the report is to draw attention to this issue to help provide solutions and not dishearten. Fairtrade’s fairer prices for farmers actually support them through the switch to more sustainable farming and is one way to vote with our food.
Mike Gidney, CEO, Fairtrade Foundation comments: “...There is a risk that farmers will have to stop farming. In some worst-case scenarios, certain varieties of the foods they grow for UK consumption could become luxury items. That’s why it’s important that farmers and workers receive a fair price that will enable them to invest in transitioning to sustainable and climate resilient ways of production. We can all do this by choosing Fairtrade. Sustainability doesn’t have to cost the earth.” The team at Fairtrade is also working with a variety of retail partners, including on own-label items, to ensure affordable options are out there for all.
Cocoa farmer Sadick Abanga, from Kumasi, Ghana comments: “I didn’t know I was punishing
the land, now because of this [Fairtrade] project I’ve seen the benefits, there are more
nutrients in the soil. The training officer always comes to the field, even when I am not there
he goes to my farm and tells me what’s good or bad, using banana irrigation during the dry
Fairtrade’s entire purpose revolves around supporting farmers and ensuring there’s a fair price for their work and the food they produce.This year it’s about protection for the planet too. Fairtrade is now calling for consumers to lookout for the Fairtrade stamp on the supermarket sweep, as a reminder of how the foundation is supporting farmers through the complex and costly hurdles from climate change. Otherwise “The Endangered Aisle” could look much longer and wider in the future.
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Chatting Food contributor: Lucie Rhoades is a freelance food & drink copywriter, with a passion for cocktails. Find her @ScenicSipping.