Building a fairer world thanks to fair trade

Fanny Lamon
15 April 2019
Improving market access for producers in the South and promoting fair and sustainable trade, while launching the challenge to make Belgium the leading fair trade country, are the objectives of the Trade for Development Centre (TDC). What does it do to achieve this? We explain.

In its recent activity report, the TDC - a programme of the Belgian Development Cooperation implemented by Enabel, the Belgian Development Agency – presents its achievements from 2014 to 2018. During 4 years it has supported thousands of smallholders in the South, to improve their market access.

In total, 122 organisations of producers and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), representing around 110,994 beneficiaries across 17 countries, have benefited from the support of the TDC. From Latin America to South-East Asia, via North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Sahel and the Great Lakes region, the TDC has been involved in ten sectors of production, namely coffee, cocoa, oil and aromatic and medicinal plants, tea, fruit and vegetables and nuts, tourism, crafts, gold and timber. Specifically, the TDC provides farmers with both financial resources and the expertise and know-how to be able to innovate and run businesses on their own, while developing their activity sustainably.

How is fair and sustainable trade a tool for reducing poverty, and a lever for development? Here are the responses from four sectors that have benefited from the support of the TDC.

the TDC provides farmers with both financial resources and the expertise and know-how to be able to innovate and run businesses on their own, while developing their activity sustainably.

Revitalising coffee growing in Africa and Latin America

In the coffee sector, 19 MSMEs, or 61,602 beneficiaries, have received support from the TDC. This is particularly the case in DR Congo, where despite the favourable soil, climate and altitude for coffee growing, the living conditions of smallholders are difficult as they are forced to abandon their fields due to the extreme violence that is ravaging the country.

To revitalise production, the TDC has funded training in shadegrown coffee, natural pesticides and homemade compost. The result? Their coffee has been certified organic and fair trade. Better quality coffee means more exports, and therefore more jobs and income. Enough to give hope to former soldiers and rebels who are now exchanging their weapons for coffee trees.

In the neighbouring country of Uganda, around 3000 farmers have received coaching in marketing. Thanks to the TDC, they were able to invest in a new logo, business cards, leaflets and even a website. Now able to introduce themselves to potential customers more professionally and recommend their speciality coffee products, Ugandan coffee farmers can sell at a much higher price. As such, the average sales price has increased by 39.45%.

Another continent but the same missions: in Latin America, a region famed for its Arabica coffee, the TDC has supported a project specifically for young farmers. Why? Because an increasing number of young people no longer want to work in the coffee sector, but prefer to look for work in big cities.

All of them younger than 30, they have consequently been trained on the criteria to be met for their coffee to meet the high demands of the "specialist coffee" market. Having become experts in tasting, they have included a group of international specialists who can compare and evaluate coffees from all over the world. Enough to motivate young people to work in coffee cultivation.

Various types of coffee beans are on display in Tanzania.

High quality cocoa which is highly sought after abroad

Ivory Coast, Peru, Bolivia and Vietnam are the leading cocoa-producing countries. However, cocoa farmers work with obsolete systems. What's more, their knowledge about cultivation is often limited. To ensure a bright future for their production, the TDC has placed strong emphasis on sustainability.

As such, 639 Ivorian cocoa farmers, as well as 850 farmers from Peru, 167 from Bolivia and 387 from Vietnam have all been trained in the fermentation, drying and storage processes of cocoa beans. By improving the quality of their products and obtaining organic and fair trade certification, these cocoa farmers have strengthened their trade relations with major importers in Europe and the United States, who are increasingly clamouring after dark chocolate (containing at least 70% cocoa). It's enough to enable them to play in the big league from now on.

As such, 639 Ivorian cocoa farmers, as well as 850 farmers from Peru, 167 from Bolivia and 387 from Vietnam have all been trained in the fermentation, drying and storage processes of cocoa beans.

No more mangos going to waste in Mali

Another sector in which the TDC has redoubled its efforts is fruit. Let's look at a success story from Mali. Mali is one of the leading producers of mangos. However, in 2015, in the south of the country, 20,000 tonnes of mangoes out of the 30,000 produced had to be discarded. The reason? It was impossible to sell them due to a lack of customers. Marketing therefore proved to be a crucial aspect to work on.

As a result, 19 cooperatives in Yanfolila have learned to update and interpret production data. In addition, surveys have helped get a picture of the most popular mango varieties, and adapt production to these preferences. This coaching in marketing has given farmers the necessary confidence to search for new customers themselves. And success has been almost immediate. In the space of two years, the cooperatives have quadrupled their sales figures, while reducing their percentage of unsold mangoes by 60%. Producers then saw their incomes increase by 635%.


Ethical fashion designed in Peru

Fair trade is not only about food. Indeed, producers can also develop ethical products in the crafts sector. The regions of Puno and Cuzco in Peru are renowned for their ancient traditions of weaving and knitting alpaca wool. The TDC has funded a range of training courses in traditional weaving techniques, to provide them with new economic opportunities.

The workers, most of whom are women since men are increasingly looking for jobs in the mines, were then able to work on the ética de lujo (ethical luxury) collection of Royal Knit (a Peruvian family-owned company that is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization). The collection has even been presented at two international trade fairs. The positive points: 200 new jobs have been created for women, and women workers, who have joined forces to better organise their production, have been emancipated. This has allowed them to better combine work and household duties.

A Peruvian woman knits an alpaca wool garment.
© DGD/S. Buyst

Making Belgium the leading fair trade country

Another aspect of the TDC's work is not aimed at producers, but consumers. What if we made Belgium the leading fair trade country? That's the challenge that was launched by the TDC in 2016. The idea is simple: if as consumers, associations, political decision-makers, hotels and restaurants, and schools, we all opted for fair trade products, we could really make a difference for producers in the South.

The most well-known campaign of the TDC is Fair Trade Week (in early October) during which the spotlight is on Fair Trade throughout Belgium. This campaign has 3 objectives: create a joint communication mouthpiece for fair trade actors in Belgium, increase the visibility of fair trade in the media, and encourage civil society to highlight fair trade.

Various activities are organised for the occasion: tastings of fair trade products in supermarkets, city walks to discover fair trade destinations in the centre of Ghent, a fair trade and sustainable fashion festival (M-Fair) in Mechelen, and even a fair trade breakfast in the European Parliament and a fair trade cooking competition between the aldermen and women of Molenbeek..

Becoming the leading fair trade country is something that needs to be earned! That's why the TDC has set out 7 objectives to be achieved by 2020:

  1. 95% of Belgians have already heard about fair trade;
  2. Every Belgian buys around €15 of fair trade products every year;
  3. All the major Belgian supermarket chains sell fair trade products;
  4. 51% of Belgian municipalities are fair trade municipalities;
  5. More than half of Belgian provinces are fair trade provinces;
  6. 80% of federal, regional and community parliaments/ministries buy at least 2 fair trade products;
  7. Fair trade is mentioned in the press 600 times every year.

Building a fairer world thanks to fair and sustainable trade, that is the goal of the TDC!


Consult the full annual report here.

Fair trade Cocoa Coffee Textile
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