Coffee is such an integral part of everyday life that few of us stop to think what goes into growing the beans that make this hugely popular beverage.

Coffee is grown in more than 70 countries, generally located along the equator (the so-called 'Coffee Belt'). For these countries, coffee exports generate a significant proportion of national income and are a vital source of the foreign exchange earnings that governments rely on to improve health, education, infrastructure and other social services. For instance, Burundi relies on coffee for 60% of its export earnings, Honduras for a quarter, Nicaragua for nearly a fifth. In Ethiopia, 15 million smallholders, nearly a fifth of the population, depend on coffee for their livelihood – high global commodity prices contributed to record coffee exports in 2010/11 which accounted for 30 per cent of the country’s total export earnings. In Uganda, half a million smallholders produce coffee, the primary source of income for around 2.5 million people or 8% of the population.

Women sorting coffee beans at the Kagera Co-Operative Union, in Bukoba, Tanzania.

Challenges facing small-scale coffee farmers

  • volatile coffee prices;
  • rising production costs;
  • poverty and lack of access to services;
  • climate change

How is Fairtrade making this better?
Fairtrade was set up to ensure coffee farmers receive a fair and stable price for their coffee that covers their costs of production. Fairtrade certified co-operatives can count on at least the Fairtrade Minimum Price of $1.40 per pound for arabica coffee sold on Fairtrade terms (30 cents more if organic), plus an extra 20 cents per pound Fairtrade Development Premium to invest as they see fit – 5 cents of which is dedicated to improving productivity and quality. These tools give farmers the stability and confidence to budget for next farming season and household expenses and drive development in their communities. For 15 of the last 24 years, when the global price for arabica coffee has often fallen well below the Fairtrade Minimum Price, it has ensured farmers can earn enough to cover at least the basic costs of sustainable production. 

In addition to the Fairtrade Minimum Price and Fairtrade Premium, Fairtrade provides essential training and support to farmer organisations to help them thrive. One of the main focus areas is to train farmers in better agricultural practices. Watch coffee farmers in Tanzania sharing their views on Fairtrade.

Learn more about Fairtrade coffee
> download our Fairtrade Coffee at a Glance
> download our Fairtrade Coffee Commodity Briefing (full report | executive summary)
> download key facts about Fairtrade coffee

Visit our product page to see what Fairtrade coffees you can buy in South Africa.


Sugar is an integral part of diets and lives. When consumed in moderation, sugar can provide some of life's great pleasures.

Around 80% of the world’s sugar is derived from sugar cane, grown by millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries.  Sugar cane is a tall, bamboo-like grass that grows to a height of 6m (20ft) and is largely grown in tropical countries. The remaining 20% of the world’s sugar supply comes from sugar beet – a root crop resembling a large parsnip, grown mainly in the temperate zones in the North. In general, the costs of producing sugar from sugar cane are lower than for sugar beet.

Challenges facing small-scale sugar farmers

  • decreasing market access to EU countries due to changes in the EU sugar regime, namely less income for farmers;
  • lack of access to training and credit to support innovation and to improve productivity;
  • lack of strong organisational capacity (especially for subsistence cane growers in South Africa);
  • widespread poverty and lack of access to services like health and education.

How is Fairtrade making this better?

A child at the school funded with the Fairtrade Development Premium at Khasintula Sugar Cane Cooperative in Malawi

The main economic provision of Fairtrade is the Fairtrade Development Premium of $60 per tonne of sugar ($80 per tonne for certified organic sugar) in addition to the negotiated sugarcane price. In 2011-12, sugar farmers received approximately $13 million in premium income of which 47% was invested in direct support to farming families. This included access to agricultural inputs, credit services and in-kind support and cash payments to help with living costs and needs. In Malawi, farmers have used the premium to build essential community infrastructure such as water boreholes, building primary schools and electrification of villages. In-kind support to farming families through provision of maize, essential household goods has improved food security in the region.

Fairtrade’s support goes beyond individual farmer stories. For cane farmers at Manduvira co-operative in Paraguay, April 2014 was a milestone as they became the proud owners of a sugar mill ensuring that they are now able to capture more value from the sugar supply chains. This $15 million project was funded through a combination of national and international loans, and contributions from the Fairtrade Development Premium. It created nearly 200 new jobs in the community.

Learn more about Fairtrade sugar
> download our Fairtrade Sugar Commodity Briefing (full report | executive summary)
> download key facts about Fairtrade sugar

Visit our product page to see what Fairtrade sugar products you can buy in South Africa.


Cotton is the world’s oldest commercial crop and one of the most important fibre crops in the global textile industry.

Challenges facing small-scale cotton farmers
Although world cotton production is dominated by China, India and the US, cotton is vital for the survival of many low income countries in Central and West Asia and Africa – it accounts, in value terms, for 26.4 per cent of Benin’s exports and 58.7 per cent of Burkina Faso’s.

Female picking cotton at Chetna Organic in India. 

Cotton farmers in developing countries, including leading producers like India and China, live in hardship. As many as 100 million households are directly engaged in cotton production and an estimated 300 million people work in the cotton sector when family labour, farm labour and workers in ancillary services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage are taken into account.

Challenges facing small-scale cotton farmers

  • Impact of climate change
  • Poor prices for seed cotton
  • Competition from highly subsidised producers in rich countries and poor terms of trade
  • Government subsidies for cotton farmers in rich countries, particularly the US, create a market with artificially low prices that small-scale farmers are unable to compete in.

How is Fairtrade making this better?
Fairtrade works with the small-scale cotton farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America and helps build stronger farmer-owned organisations. This is important because farmers can achieve a lot more together as a group in negotiations with ginners and traders or in supporting the local community.

Fairtrade encourages sustainable cotton production and is the only standard to provide economic benefits, through a guaranteed Fairtrade Minimum Price and additional Fairtrade Premium for seed cotton farmers. In 2012, 33 farmers’ organisations in eight countries were certified for Fairtrade cotton production and reported premium earnings of approximately £530,000. A large percentage of this was invested by farmers in community infrastructure and supporting education facilities in the local community. Watch this video about what Fairtrade means to cotton farmers in Senegal. 

Through Fairtrade, thousands of cotton farmers have already improved their lives. Cotton co-operatives have become better organised, farmers are more productive and women farmers are receiving the same rewards as male farmers, from voting rights to equal pay. A study on the impact of Fairtrade cotton in four countries particularly noted the impact of Fairtrade Standards on gender equity. The study highlighted how a requirement in the Fairtrade Standards for seed cotton stipulating that women farmers should be paid directly (rather than through their husbands or other male family members) had encouraged more women in West and Central Africa to cultivate cotton. They considered that this had given them more influence over their household resources. You can read the full study here and a summary here

Learn more about Fairtrade cotton
> download our Fairtrade Cotton Commodity Briefing (full report)
> download key facts about Fairtrade cotton


Around six million people depend on farming cocoa for their livelihoods around the world, with 60% of the world’s cocoa sourced from Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana alone.

Opening up a cocoa pod at Kuapa Kokoo Cooperative, Ghana.

Despite the world’s love for chocolate, it is a precarious way of making a living. Although there is a high demand for cocoa, the global price for cocoa has fluctuated wildly in recent decades as a result of weather events and politic upheaval in Côte d’Ivoire, exacerbated by speculators betting on cocoa futures markets. Prices hit a 32-year high in March 2011 before crashing 42% by the end of the year but recovered in 2014 amid industry fears of a shortage of cocoa beans. Such volatility in prices makes it impossible for cocoa farmers to know how much they would be paid for their cocoa beans in a given year, let alone being able to plan for the future.

Challenges facing small-scale cocoa farmers

  • Most producers have small farms, often with less than five hectares of land;
  • they also face significant problems with the crops, including Black Pod disease which globally is killing one in 10 cocoa trees and causing a drop in yield of 20-30%;
  • the general age of many cocoa trees is also an issue and means small-scale farmers are producing less cocoa year-on-year;
  • the average age of a cocoa farmer is now over 50 because the younger generation cannot be attracted to cocoa farming because of the poor returns;
  • widespread poverty and lack of access to services like health and education.

How is Fairtrade making things better?
Fairtrade aims to make cocoa farming more sustainable so farmers can better provide for themselves and their families. At the end of 2015, 129 small farmer organisations in 20 countries held a certificate to produce and sell Fairtrade cocoa, representing 179,800 small-scale farmers. Fairtrade has a minimum price for cocoa of $2,000 per ton, with a $200 premium per ton on top of that for farmers to invest in their businesses or local community.

The Fairtrade Development Premium is invested in programmes to improve the efficiency of farms to boost the yields and the quality of their cocoa. In 2011-12, 45% of premium income was spent on strengthening producer organisations and 43% of premium income was spent on agricultural tools and inputs, training, credit services and direct payments to farmers. The premium is also invested in community programmes such as schools (Côte d’Ivoire has only around a 50% literacy rate), medical centres and clean running water. Read more about the investments made by cocoa farmers with the Fairtrade Premium in this recent report. Farmers in the 50,000-strong Fairtrade certified Kuapa Kokoo co-operative in Ghana have spent their premium on building wells for drinking water, building public toilets, and a mobile clinic to visit member’s villages. They have also invested in training in leadership and management and set up other ways for women especially to earn more money, making soap and palm oil, milling corn and breeding snails. In addition to the minimum price and premium, Fairtrade provides essential training and support to farmer organisations to help them become successful business organisations. In Côte d’Ivoire, Fairtrade undertook training workshops so farmers know how to negotiate their contracts with traders and get a better deal for their members.

Learn more about Fairtrade cocoa
> download our Fairtrade Cocoa Commodity Briefing (full report)
> download key facts about Fairtrade cocoa

Visit our product page to see what Fairtrade chocolate you can buy in South Africa.


South Africa is the eight biggest wine producing country, producing 4,2% of the world's wine. Some 120,000 farm workers are employed in the wine industry in South Africa, and wine is a key product for the country, contributing to over ZAR 40 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP). Currently 99 680 hectares of vines producing wine grapes are under cultivation in South Africa over an area some 800 kilometres in length. White varieties constitute 54.6% of the plantings for wine, with Chenin Blanc comprising 18.0% of the total. Red-wine varieties account for 45.4% of the national vineyard. The most widely planted red variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, accounting for 11.7% of the total. Shiraz accounts for 10.5%, while Merlot accounts for 6.2% and Pinotage, which is indigenous to South Africa, represents 7.2%.

South Africa is also the largest Fairtrade wine producer in the world, exporting in excess of 12 million Litres of Fairtrade wine (2013) to over 20 countries worldwide. Over 3000 farm workers are permanently employed across 76 Fairtrade certified farms, and we estimate that approximately 5% of the local wine grape production is Fairtrade certified - with about 3% of the grapes sold as Fairtrade.

Challenges facing farm workers

The South African wine (and grape) industry has a notoriously bad history of labour relations, principally because it was built on slavery. Abolished in 1838, de facto slavery – in-kind payments, often with liquor (known as the dop system) – continued on many farms until the end of the twentieth century. As also identified from a recent study carried out by Human Rights Watch, farm workers on wine farms are some of the most disadvantaged segments of the agricultural workforce and face challenges including:

  • Lack of access to education, healthcare and other services;
  • Inadequate living conditions;
  • Lack of skills and lack of opportunities for future generations;
  • Incidents of abuse on the workplace;
  • Alcoholism;
  • Exposure to harmful pesticides.

While initiatives have been taken to redeem the wine industry as a whole, Fairtrade is unique system for wine farms to adopt ethical and sustainable trade as a core organisational value.

Planting vineyards Bosman Family Vineyards, Wellington, South Africa.

How is Fairtrade making things better?
Fairtrade Standards makes sure there are decent working and living conditions for all farm workers on a certified farm, as well as opportunities for workers to empower themselves. They focus on:

  • Compliance with International Labour Organisation (ILO) worker standards;
  • Non-discrimination, no forced or child labour;
  • Freedom of association;
  • Health and safety measures to protect farm workers;
  • Skills development plans;
  • Gender-focused standards (paid maternity leave, implementation of sexual abuse policies, etc.)
  • Working towards a living wage.

In addition to the standards, farm workers on a Fairtrade certified farm receive the Fairtrade Development Premium in a bank account they own and democratically manage. For every Ton (1000Kg) of wine grapes sold by the farmers on Fairtrade terms, farm workers earn R600 to invest in social development. This translates into approximately ZAR 70c per bottle of wine.

Through Fairtrade Environmental Standards, we also make sure that wine grape farming is sustanable. Such practices include:

  • Safe use and handling of pesticides and hazardous waste;
  • No use of prohibited chemicals like Paraquat, as set out by the Prohibited Material List;
  • Implementation of practices for sustainable water use, soil conservation, waste management, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM);
  • Protection of conservation areas and biodiversity.

To learn more about Fairtrade wine download our Fairtrade Wine at at Glance, and visit our products page to see what Fairtrade wines you can buy in South Africa.