Rethinking our broken food system

Posted by Nicolas Mounard on 20 January 2014

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Last year, coffee prices continued their chaotic tumble on New York commodity markets, falling 20% to around $1.20 per pound.  Thousands of miles away, this abstract futures market is having a very real world effect on the livelihoods of small farmers. The market currently stands at 40 cents below the Fairtrade minimum price – set at the sustainable cost of production – causing outcry and hunger in coffee farming communities. But coffee is just one example in our broken global food system, which sees the poorest and hungriest producing the majority of the world’s food to sell at unsustainable prices. In the context of climate change and urbanisation, something’s got to give.

Twin is supporting Forum for the Future’s approach to food as it seeks to rebalance the system through the promotion of social, economic and environmental values to its members and beyond. Twin tries to do exactly this through trade. We are engaged throughout the value chain, delivering technical assistance to farmers to help them add value and access international markets; trading and marketing on behalf of producer organisations; engaging business to deepen their commitment to ethical trade; and setting up 100% Fairtrade brands, such as Cafedirect, Divine Chocolate and Liberation Nuts! to change the ethical consumer landscape.

Reconnecting people with food

One of forum’s three pillars on food is about reconnecting consumers with food and the people who produce it. Twin believes that this connection works both ways. We are working with several producer organisations on ‘Women’s Coffee’ initiatives to highlight the vital role of women in agriculture to consumers and support women producers. The coffee is fully traceable to women growers and carries a premium, an extra sum on the sale of the coffee, which funds women’s empowerment programmes or provides extra income. The initiatives have resulted in increased landownership and membership of cooperatives, as men gift a portion of their land to their wives to enable them to join the scheme. Not only does this put women on a more equal footing with men within producer organisations and the home, the knowledge that their story is part of the end product is a considerable boost to women’s self-esteem.

Restoring resilience to the food system

Forum’s second pillar is about resilience in the food system. Climate change is a daily reality for many of Twin’s producer partners, with erratic seasons becoming the norm, and pest and diseases – such as the recent fungal outbreak of coffee leaf rust in Central America – on the rise. Good environmental management is central to Twin’s technical assistance for smallholders. Without much needed investment in adaptation, product quality can be compromised and ultimately yields suffer and farms become unprofitable. Twin’s climate approach partners with businesses to help them develop projects that build resilience into their smallholder supply chains. Smallholders cannot afford to bear the cost of adaption alone, and without action, businesses cannot guarantee future supply.

Rethinking value creation

The third pillar is about value creation. Value often gets bottlenecked at the top of the supply chain. Twin works to unlock more value in the chain for smallholders, using a focus on quality to enter premium markets. In coffee, this involves building new washing stations, so that farmers can sell ‘fully-washed’ coffee for a higher price, and tasting labs, to help producers understand buyer requirements, produce a better flavour profile and market their product more effectively. Twin has also partnered with a network of East African coffee cooperatives to set up the Joint Marketing Initiative, which supports producers in developing their own brand identity and telling their story.