You'll find a lot of content on this blog highlighting the many benefits that Fair Trade brings to farming communities: From improved business relationships and democratic process, to additional income to invest in much-needed development projects. However, Fair Trade is not the only solution to alleviating poverty. Fair Trade often works best when combined with efforts from other organizations with similar missions. And, the democratic structure fostered by Fair Trade standards makes these communities ideal beneficiaries for additional support. That's because they are trained to clearly communicate their areas of need, distribute aid, and report back on the results of the investments.
Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit a Fair Trade certified farm for the first time. Colleagues and I slogged up muddy terrain so we could see firsthand what it looks like to be a Fair Trade banana farmer in Ecuador and how Heifer International’s work helps take the benefits of Fair Trade membership a step farther to improve the lives of the people who grow the food many of us take for granted. In fact, a number of our projects are with communities of Fair Trade farmers, raising crops from bananas to cocoa to coffee.
In Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru, we have worked for several years to bridge the gaps between the benefits of Fair Trade programs and the realities of seasonal hunger and poverty  for coffee farmers. In March I visited Heifer projects in Honduras and Guatemala. In the small community of Belen-Ocotepeque in Santa Rosa-Belen, Honduras, I met a group of 10 women entrepreneurs who, two years ago, started a small business selling pickled vegetables. Their families’ primary income comes from coffee laboring during the October-January harvest season. With support from Heifer Honduras, the co-op applied to put their line of pickled products into supermarkets countrywide, which could mean a significant increase in the amount and stability of their income.
In fact, it isn't uncommon to visit a Fair Trade cooperative and see the results of a Heifer project. On a February trip to Chiapas, Mexico, Fair Trade USA's Katie Barrow saw a lot of coffee being harvested at the Triunfo Verde Coffee Cooperative . She also saw a lot of chickens. The farmers proudly explained that because of Heifer, every two houses received 22 chickens. This community had voted to use the Fair Trade community development premium to create a health program with traveling clinics, and the chickens were a natural fit for program. The combination of improved nutrition–through a regular supply of eggs in their diet–perfectly complemented the nutrition training and health screenings the families received from the health program.
Heifer empowers families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach, much like that of Fair Trade USA, is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps brings sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market. These benefits, combined with those made possible through Fair Trade, can bring about life-altering changes.
Fair Trade USA's work in farming communties around the world is key to improving the incomes and living conditions of commodity farmers. This month, as we celebrate and promote Fair Trade, I’d like us to look for ways to take it to the next level—to ensure the farmers growing many of the things we enjoy have the happy, healthy and secure lives we all deserve.