Involving Fairtrade producers in research, training, and governance

Blog post by Jennifer Keahey

keaheyDid you know that Fairtrade has grown into a multi-billion dollar certification system? The label that you see on products such as coffee and tea promotes social justice in trade.

Fairtrade supports producers around the world by providing access to minimum pricing guarantees, premiums for development, and opportunities to build stable trading relations.

Fairtrade is experiencing growing pains. In Africa alone, the number of certified producer organizations has more than doubled in the past decade.

Given this rapid growth, Fairtrade is struggling to support its most marginal members—small-scale farmers—leading to mixed outcomes.

I spent a year in South Africa’s Rooibos tea industry collaborating with a team of scholars, professionals, and small-scale farmers to develop a participatory commodity networking research (PCNR) model for producer support.

Working within farming communities, we began by holding democratic elections for farmer leaders.


The elected farmer leaders conducted research, training, and networking activities to investigate Rooibos challenges, develop technical capacity, and stimulate information exchanges between farmers and experts.

Operating at the center of action, the leaders assumed increasing control over project activities and facilitated a policy seminar to inform the governance groups impacting their livelihoods.

Our work remains incomplete. The challenges facing small-scale farmers are severe, even within Fairtrade markets where efforts are being made to support their interests.

Is social justice in trade possible? How might Fairtrade reduce power imbalances within multilateral commodity networks? What strategies are needed to support the movement of producers from the margins to the center of governance?

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