Fair trade productsIn a global marketplace full of exploitative producers and hungry consumers, fair trade product markets can seem like a welcomed compromise that allows exporters in developing countries to prosper from their resources. These initiatives usually involve goods exported from developing countries to higher-income trading partners, including coffee, tea, cocoa and handicrafts. In more socially conscious trading models, producers are compensated equitably for their products and held to higher environmental and social standards. However, the true efficacy of fair trade models is complex.

Price and Accessibility

Consumer attitudes and behaviors play a significant role in the pervasiveness of fair trade products. Buyers often report positive attitudes toward more ethically traded items but are not always willing to pay the inevitably higher prices. As a result, fair trade products are still a more niche commodity, making up less than 1% of the market. Ironically, the extra expense of these items often makes them less accessible to lower-income consumers in developed countries, creating connotations of elitism. Despite these setbacks, the demand for more ethical products is steadily on the rise.

Fair Trade Product Marketing

Despite many well-intentioned consumer attitudes, fair trade product markets frequently feature marketing strategies that conjure up imperialistic images. Rather than honoring the work of exporters as equitable trading partners, many marketing campaigns portray farmers as grateful and dependent on western purchases.

Transparency in Fair Trade Certification

In products marked as fair trade, the certification might only apply to the product’s raw materials, rather than the full process of production. This means that a shirt made with fair trade cotton could have been manufactured in a sweatshop. Naturally, this lack of transparency can mislead consumers and dilute the meaning of the certification.

Economic Impact of Fair Trade

The efficacy of fair trade as a poverty management tool is up for debate as well. Although fair trade marketing is centered on empowering those in producing regions and reducing poverty, the effects are not as straightforward as many well-intentioned consumers might hope. A 2014 study theorizes that these practices are somewhat effective, “although on a comparatively modest scale relative to the size of national economies.”

Often, the poorest workers are spared the prosperity from fair trade product market practices. A study that observed coffee mills in Costa Rica between 1999 and 2014, explored the impacts of fair trade systems on household incomes within the region. Researchers found that farm owners and skilled growers reap most of the benefits. Unskilled laborers receive no benefits other than the economic spillover of an increasingly prosperous coffee-growing region.

Many requirements of the fair trade certification are inaccessible for growers with fewer resources. Smaller producers might struggle to pay the fees associated with becoming certified fair trade producers. Similarly, producers struggle to attract large corporate trading partners who have no interest in paying the extra cost of sourcing materials equitably. NGOs like Maya Traditions, which helps Guatemalan artisans sell their products on the international marketplace, aim to make entrepreneurship accessible to small producers in developing countries.

The Verdict

The efficacy of fair trade systems is the subject of a great deal of criticism. While fair trade products like coffee, tea, and cotton are worth investing in, the benefits are imperfect and not accessible to all producers or consumers. Some activists advocate for a ‘direct trade’ system, in which consumers can buy goods directly from growers while paying growers sums closer to retail prices. However, the direct trade model comes with its own set of challenges and infrastructural changes. Nonetheless, establishing a system that allows producers to reach more advanced development from trading their crops is challenging but is certainly worth investing in.

Stefanie Grodman
Photo: Flickr

Building Sustainability through LivestockAround the world, billions are lost to see how vital livestock is to a sustainable lifestyle. For many in the developed world, the meat we buy at the grocery store every week and the process it has to go through may seem a bit amorphous and, some would argue, potentially problematic from an ethical perspective. The importance of sustainable livestock is crucial, not only to those of us lucky enough to be able to simply pick up a wide range of meats at a variety of places, but it can be the marker of success for local farmers and businesses in the developing world.

For those around the world that tend to livestock, they rely on it as a primary food source as well as for economic means. As a source of protein and nutrients, livestock is irreplaceable. Poor and developing countries find it difficult to access nutritionally balanced foods. Therefore, access to livestock such as cows and goats can provide much-needed food and economic relief when it comes to supporting yourself, your family and local businesses with products such as eggs, milk and other dairy products.

The acquisition is especially important in areas that are suffering severely from malnutrition. This is not lost on organizations such as, Oxfam and Heifer International that offer a charitable donation in the form of giving a family the much needed, “gift of sustainability,” as Oxfam calls it, such as a goat. Also, the economic and health benefits of owning livestock are not lost on many nations either. For example, Rwanda has initiated a government assistance program called One Cow per Poor Family (also known as Girinka).

A new study has expressed that this program shows great promise in limiting food insecurity. With Agriculture supporting 80 percent of the Rwandan population, owning livestock can also help with limiting the negative effects of soil infertility. However, in the absence of government assistance programs such as these, many poor families will be left with few options, should their crops fail or if other sources of income are dried up. And while there is no shortage of options when it comes to donating to help with food sustainability in underdeveloped nations, livestock sustainability sadly and continually falls to the waste side.

“The contribution of livestock to the wider rural economy remains under-appreciated by all players in development, except farmers,” says The Guardian in their article, “It’s time to recognize the important role livestock play in tackling poverty.” And with under-appreciation or lack of knowledge typically comes under-development and lack of funding. Additionally, livestock can take on many roles as it helps to keep families from slipping further into economic depression. For example, if the crops that the livestock are helping cultivate suddenly take a devastating turn, as they will often do, families will also have the option of selling the livestock itself to stay afloat.

Livestock also can give women in local communities the chance to not only make a profit but also help build economic sustainability for themselves as well. In a world where half the farmers are female, many women have taken the helm when it comes to raising and cultivating livestock. This work, which can be incredibly profitable, will not only give women a source of income and potential economic independence, but studies have shown that with these newfound funds, women will invest a majority of it back into the household. Those are expanded investments in school, food, healthcare, etc.

With the help of livestock, communities that are being ravaged by poverty have a chance to not only pull themselves out of it, but they provide an opportunity to build a sustainable future for themselves and their community. As long as livestock is brought to the forefront of discussions about poverty and development, then global sustainability can see greater positive results.

Connor Dobson
Photo: Flickr


Moyee Coffee is Helping Farmers in Ethiopia
The days of poor coffee farmers in Ethiopia receiving underpayment for hard work may soon be over as Moyee Coffee is helping farmers in the country. Moyee, a Dutch coffee brand, is transforming supply chains with blockchain. Moyee begins this process by creating unique digital identities for its coffee producers. Next, it sets prices at 20 percent over the market rate. Buyers can view these prices and choose to support the livelihood of farmers in Ethiopia. The coffee company is also creating an app that allows customers to tip farmers. These business decisions are what make Moyee the first multinational coffee company based in Ethiopia.

Why Coffee is Such a Tough Business

People consume billions of cups of coffee every day and the coffee industry is worth almost $100 billion, yet the producers of the coffee bean are among the world’s poor. Approximately 90 million people who help produce coffee live on less than $2 a day. To put that into perspective, most Americans spend more than $2 a day on a cup of coffee.

A lot of the problems associated with coffee farming and poverty have to do with climate change and price fluctuation. Climate change has altered growing seasons making it difficult to produce good quality crops. Species of coffee are dying out because of deforestation and soon farmlands may become unsuitable to grow coffee. Prices fluctuate often because of supply and demand. The problem is that when climate change damages crop yield, prices can be low which means farmers earn less than they should for their product.

How Blockchain Increases Profits for Farmers in Ethiopia

This is when Fairchain comes in. Fairchain is a version of blockchain that Moyee created. It is a digital supply chain that is completely transparent. The supply chain tracks every transaction from the coffee bean to the coffee cup. This allows blockchain to cut out the middleman and help control price fluctuations. When the supply chain is transparent, people and companies can see how much each chain in the line received to keep prices fair. This is what helps farmers when prices fluctuate dramatically because they get a fair price even when demand is low.

How Moyee Coffee is Helping Farmers

Moyee gives coffee farmers mobile wallets, tap cards, identification numbers and barcodes that allow them to receive payments directly. Moyee also allows customers who buy its coffee to support farmers by using a QR code. The code allows customers to tip the farmer or fund small programs that aid farmers like microloans or training.

The Moyee Brand has a growing impact in Ethiopia by using blockchain to increase profits for coffee farmers. The use of technology has allowed for supply chains to become more transparent. Transparency is key because customers are often unaware of where their product is coming from and how much the producer receives. The increase in profits can help farmers in a variety of ways. Their product yields could increase and they could live a more sustainable lifestyle. Middlemen used to take advantage of farmers and cut their profits, but Moyee is changing that and hopefully, it will serve as a model for other multinational corporations.

Gaurav Shetty
Photo: Flickr


There are over 500 million smallholder farms in the world. Most of these farmers live on less than $1 a day and are highly vulnerable to severe climate change and other factors that can hurt their farms. On top of that, many of these farmers do not have access to the Internet to learn about ways to help their farms or even to help other farmers.

One company, WeFarm, has developed a way to connect farmers without having to have an Internet connection. WeFarm has implemented a free, peer-to-peer service for farmers to share information via SMS, rather than through the Internet.

WeFarm explains how this works with a simple example: “Rose’s crops are suffering from a disease, so she sends a simple, free text to the local WeFarm number.” Rose’s question would then be posted online and sent to certain WeFarm members via SMS. From there, Rose would receive answers within minutes, according to WeFarm, without having to leave her farm or needing an Internet connection.

Because of the use of SMS, these farmers can use simple mobile phones to access this information. Especially now that over 90 percent of smallholder farmers now have access to a basic mobile phone. Over 290,000 farmers have registered with WeFarm. Of 387,000 questions asked, over 540,000 answers have been given. In the six years that WeFarm has been operating, they have made it much easier for farmers to access crucial information, with the only cost being purchasing a basic mobile phone.

As of now, WeFarm is only available in three countries: Peru, Kenya and Uganda. Their website even shows a live feed of questions as they are asked and answered, along with a map to show where the questions originate from.

Although WeFarm is still young and growing, they have created an extremely helpful concept that can be implemented in many parts of the world without an Internet connection. WeFarm has created a way – by using a basic mobile phone – to share necessary information at a low cost to farmers around the world; its success thus far brings hope that WeFarm’s progress will spread to other countries and help farmers all over the world.

Rebekah Covey

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in Bhutan
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a small Himalayan country of 750,000 people. Over one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. Ninety-six percent affected by the causes of poverty in Bhutan live in rural areas. The ones most impacted work outside the country’s modern economy, and include farmers, day laborers and small traders.

The Power of Nature in Bhutan Poverty

One cause of poverty in Bhutan cannot be controlled: the Himalayan landscape.

Natural disasters, such as floods and landslides, can wreak havoc on communities and ruin crops. Forces of nature can wipe out entire villages, forcing those already living in poverty to re-build their lives.

When weather conditions prevent a bountiful harvest, farmers do not have alternative options to financially recover. Farmers often don’t own enough productive land and livestock to gain financial security. Opportunities to generate cash income outside of agriculture are extremely limited, making farmers exclusively dependent on the success crops.  In rural areas, off-farm employment in rural areas is rare.

Rugged terrain also makes travel difficult for rural populations. A person may have to walk three hours to a few days to reach a highway or main road. These demanding journeys limit access to social and health services, markets, technology and education.

The Struggle of Large Families, Students and Laborers 

Other causes of poverty in Bhutan are due to family size, lack of education and limited jobs.

Large families with a high dependency ratio (children and adults who cannot work) experience more poverty in both urban and rural areas. As of 2004, 49 percent of families in the rural areas of Bhutan had six or more members. These families experience labor shortages when youth and working adults leave their villages for the country’s urban centers.

A student in Bhutan’s rural regions may have to walk two to three hours each way to access the nearest primary school. Because access to education is difficult and limited, the adult literacy rate and opportunities to gain productive skills in the rural areas of Bhutan remain low. As of 2004, less than half of the Bhutan’s rural population was literate.

For day laborers and small traders outside of Bhutan’s agriculture-based economy, low earnings are often not enough to overcome poverty. Even when laborers and traders work more than one job, they are often unable to earn enough to live consistently above the poverty line.

Reducing Poverty and Staying Happy  

Local government is working to address the causes of poverty in Bhutan and build long-term solutions and comprehensive development programs, especially in rural areas.

Despite the various causes of poverty in Bhutan, the country is well-known as one of the happiest countries in Asia. As Bhutan aims to overcome poverty, it carries the rich success of its famous priority: happiness.


Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr

Many companies use technology to make farmers’ work easier, especially in rural, underdeveloped places where millions of people depend on agriculture to survive. A new company named Agsol has joined this cause. Agsol brings power to poor farmers with its line of solar-powered agro-processing machines. Agsol aims to change the livelihoods and lives of some of the 1.1 billion people living off the power grid.

Agsol founders Matt Carr and Greg Denn created several small mills that can turn harvested crops, such maize and rice, into marketable products. Agsol’s solar-powered products include rice polishers and hullers, coconut scrapers and cassava scrapers.

Agsol currently works with Project Support Services, which provides Agsol’s products to customers in Papa New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. According to the supplier’s website, Agsol’s machines are “built strong for harsh environments…have zero fuel costs, require little maintenance, have a long life and are easy to use.” In this way, the products drive food production efficiency.

The machines save farm families from performing backbreaking, repetitive manual labor. In minutes they do what would have taken much longer before. The machines’ speed and efficiency mean farmers can prepare more products for the market, increasing their incomes and allowing them to rise out of poverty.

When rural farmers can grow and sell more, others also benefit. A 10 percent increase in farm yields contributes to a seven percent poverty reduction in Africa and a five percent reduction in Asia.

Agsol’s agro-processing machines also solve energy needs by producing electricity. “It could power a water purifier, a fridge, or even a community office server for computers,” Carr stated, as reported in Anthill, an Australian magazine that highlights innovation and entrepreneurship.

Providing energy to smallholder farmers and rural communities can further alleviate poverty. The energy created by Agsol’s machines could power a medical clinic, which would help decrease the rate and severity of illnesses. It could also power a school, enabling children to receive a quality education. Even something as simple as a smartphone charger could allow a farmer to communicate with other farmers about current local conditions and share tips for success.

Agsol was one of five companies that recently graduated from The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s “ON [email protected],” an eight-week experience for small businesses to gain connections and knowledge to further develop their businesses.

The training Agsol received has set it on pace to sell around 800 machines in 2017. With each machine sold, Agsol brings power to poor farmers: the power to improve farm yields, incomes and communities.

Kristen Reesor

Photo: Flickr

In the last century, worldwide water utilization, most of which is used in agriculture, has surpassed population growth, and many developing countries are facing severe water scarcity. While water usage goes up, climate change brings more droughts and extreme weather, reducing the water available for agriculture. That’s why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has turned to water accounting, a process that measures the efficiency of water use in agriculture and helps farmers in developing countries improve their crop yields.

FAO recently launched WaPOR, which stands for Water Productivity Open-access portal. WaPOR, as its name suggests, is an open-access database that uses satellite data to track water usage. Part of a $10 million project funded by the government of the Netherlands, WaPOR will evaluate water usage in Africa and the Near East, focusing on countries facing water scarcity.

WaPOR measures evapotranspiration, a phase in the water cycle which consists partly of water that evaporates into the atmosphere via plants and foliage. Evapotranspiration provides a measure of the water that plants and crops consume during a growing season and helps farmers understand the efficiency of their water use based on their crop yields. In brief, WaPOR monitors how effective current irrigation schemes are and offers cost-effective solutions for farmers in developing countries.

The program uses satellite data show how many crops farmers produce per cubic meter of water used. Using WaPOR’s data, agricultural extension agents help farmers in developing countries create sustainable ways to grow more reliable crop yields. FAO updates WaPOR’s water maps every one to 10 days.

The International Water Management Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable uses of water in agriculture, and the IHE Deft Institute for water Education, the largest international school for water education in the world, will help developing countries use WaPOR by boosting capacity in those areas.

WaPOR allows smallholder farmers to have access to critical information that they didn’t have before. This new technology will help farmers improve water availability and protect them from climate change.

Rachel Cooper

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Rural IndiaIn India, one of the world’s most culturally diverse and populous countries, one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of India’s poor live in rural areas, where a lack of access to basic resources and social services, high rates of illiteracy and inadequate healthcare contribute to high poverty rates.

The NM Sadguru Water and Development Foundation works to empower those living in nearby rural communities and reduce poverty through sustainable development. The nonprofit works to provide education and training for farmers, implement environmentally-sound structures and build community through farmer organizations and cooperatives.

Before the organization began its work that now spans more than 500 villages throughout the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, farming in the semi-arid, drought-prone region could only occur during the three-month monsoon period. The only crop farmers could grow was corn, and they had to migrate with their families to other areas in India to find work as laborers to supplement their income. Making only a few thousand rupees per year, they lived in extreme poverty.

The area transformed when the NM Sadguru Foundation constructed check dams and lift irrigation systems to slow water from nearby rivers, conserve rainwater and distribute the water to various sites through gravitational force. This new system eliminated farmers’ need to walk long distances to find water, which made it possible to farm year-round and enabled farmers to plant a more diverse set of crops.

Farmers who once were only able to grow corn now grow eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, beets, pointed gourd, onions, papaya, mangoes, potatoes, wheat, chickpeas, rice, cilantro and garlic. While the new crops greatly increase their incomes, farmers and their families are now also much healthier. Many farmers have even turned to floriculture, earning six times more harvesting chrysanthemums, marigolds and roses than their income from farming corn.

With an increased profit, farmers and their families are able to do things they never dreamed possible before Sadguru, such as build better homes, buy and raise healthier livestock and even send their children to school.

Aside from improving access to water, the NM Sadguru Foundation also provides sustainable farming education to farmers and even trains them to become community leaders. Farmers can then supervise their villages and surrounding areas, providing training and support to all those in the community.

While this spreads knowledge of the best farming practices quickly, it also empowers rural people who may have been on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder previously. For example, some women have transformed their entire villages through introducing and developing fruit orchards in their communities.

The NM Sadguru Foundation’s work shows that it doesn’t take much to lift many people out of poverty. Improving access to basic needs creates a ripple effect that expands to impact health, security, income, education and so many other factors. With the right solutions and the proper support to maintain growth, eliminating poverty is something that can be achieved.

Cassie Lipp

Photo: Flickr

Protecting the Coffee Farmers
The exponential rise in demand for coffee has led to insuperable pressure on coffee farmers all over the world. The 22 percent decrease in global coffee exports has adversely impacted the supply of coffee as climate change patterns continue to debilitate.

The major cause of the decrease in supply lies in the rapidly rising global temperatures. This temperature spike has culminated in poor yields as the coffee plants thrive on more moist and cooler conditions for flowering and fruiting. If not, the crop becomes more vulnerable to the combined effects of pests and various diseases.

Consequently, a large proportion of coffee growers in developing economies in African countries, Brazil, Colombia and India are smallholder farmers. Protecting coffee farmers is especially essential because they do not have the means to support and adapt to the changes in the market, especially during the concurrent price volatility for coffee. There are around 120 million individuals who rely on this produce for their livelihoods.

A recent report consolidated by Australia’s Climate Change Institute highlighted that by the year 2050, 50 percent of the land dedicated to growing coffee would shrink. This will lead to negative impacts on yields.

Protecting the coffee farmers is vital to ensure continued production of coffee to meet the increasing demand. Using sustainable practices and approaches will be instrumental in achieving this goal, along with carefully monitoring supply chains. Many organizations have therefore recognized the need of addressing this key objective.

The 15-year collaborative effort that Conservation International has embarked on with Starbucks, with the establishment of the CAFE (Coffee and Farmer Equity) practices program, has been a pillar of strength to coffee growers. Moreover, the concept of Ethical Sourcing has brought about the inception of the components: Quality, Social Responsibility, Economic Accountability and Environmental leadership. These initiatives will ensure that coffee growers have an efficient way of sustaining their produce every year.

The Smart Coffee ID Card has also helped in protecting the coffee farmers in Colombia. Through this scheme, farmers get a chance to make payments effectively. Digitizing payments has been proved to stimulate more financial and social inclusion within communities to help combat poverty, as accentuated by the U.N. led coalition, Better Than Cash Alliance.

Fortunately, this channel is now also being used for the provision of government subsidies and incentives. From 2007- 2014 alone, a record 5.4 million payments were made.

Moreover, the Kagera Co-operative is also protecting coffee farmers. It has a widespread influence in Tanzania and reaches out to 60,000 smallholder farmers who aspire to sell their products on the fair trade market. Fair trade Coffee Cooperatives have a massive outreach with a renowned reputation for alleviating trading and price restrictions, along with granting workers considerable autonomy.

Overall, protecting coffee farmers effectively can be achieved by the concerted efforts of the coffee farmers, governments, local charities and international organizations so that coffee farmers continue to have an outlet for their produce and can earn high returns. Collaboration in this manner will pave the way for a sustainable future, where conservation, farming practices and livelihoods are all safeguarded.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr

Loans in Bangladesh

Nearly half of the population in Bangladesh work in the poor agricultural sector where they have traditionally been excluded from accessing credit facilities that could improve their livelihoods.

To help farmers lift themselves out of poverty, USAID’s Development Credit Authority has partnered with Bangladeshi banks to provide customized financing options that fit the needs of local communities. Here are Benefits of Small Loans in Bangladesh.

3 Benefits of Small Loans in Bangladesh

  1. Bank loans give farmers the opportunity to become self-sufficient. Many poor farmers lack the resources to invest in the land they work on and often spend a significant portion of their income on rent or lease  agreements. Through credit facilities, small farmers can purchase the land they work on providing them with stability and opportunities for growth.
  2. Some farmers have used loans to diversify or increase their crop production or to purchase livestock. Through loans, some workers have even been able to make the switch from being a laborer on someone else’s farm to developing a farm of their own. Each small investment that farmers are able to make moves them one step closer to economic stability.
  3. Entrepreneurs have the option to expand their businesses through bank loans. One of USAID’s success stories is of a man who had run a carp farm for 16 years. His business was well-established but in order to expand he required a loan, which he received through the USAID program. Farmers can increase their livelihoods when they have more land, because they can cultivate more crops or raise more livestock.

The availability of loans in Bangladesh that are customized for small borrowers will go a long way to benefit farmers, their families and local communities.

Emily Milakovic

Photo: Flickr