Small-scale farmers and climate change How can farmer organisations and Fairtrade build the adaptive capacity of smallholders?
Background and context This paper explores the links between farmer organisations, Fairtrade and adaptation to climate change, and the extent to which such institutions and market arrangements can enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers. It does this by reviewing evidence from published research and studies and by analysing case studies of two Fairtradecertified farmer organisations in Uganda and Malawi. Smallholder farmers are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as a result of poverty, marginalisation and reliance on natural resources. Climate change is likely to lead to crop yields decreasing in most tropical and sub-tropical regions, thereby negatively impacting agricultural sectors and worsening issues of food security in developing countries. Although smallholders have considerable experience in dealing with climate variability, the unprecedented levels of variability associated with long-term climate change are outside the realm of traditional coping strategies (Pettengell, 2010). As climate change impacts are increasingly observed and felt by smallholder farmers, there is an urgent need to identify approaches which strengthen ongoing economic development efforts and enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers, their households and their communities. Reducing people’s vulnerability to climate change is closely linked to the poverty reduction and economic development agendas, since poverty is both a condition and a determinant of vulnerability (Hamill et al., 2008). Effective and sustainable adaptation to climate change in the long run is therefore dependent on broad-based economic development in which smallholders are able to move from low return subsistence activities to higher return livelihood activities. Both farmer organisations and certification systems, such as Fairtrade, have received growing attention in rural development policy in recent years. Researchers, donors and practitioners alike have recognised the role and potential value of farmer organisation in enabling small-scale producers to access and benefit from formal markets. There has also been growing interest in the role that product certification schemes, notably Fairtrade, can play in promoting rural development and addressing market failures. Adaptation must sit high on the Fairtrade agenda since, as well as increasing producers’ vulnerability, climate change magnifies inequality; those who contribute least to global emissions will suffer the most. Smallholder Adaptive Capacity Framework In order to assess the extent to which participation in farmer organisations and Fairtrade promotes adaptation, it is necessary to identify what we mean by adaptive capacity and examine how assets, processes and capabilities combine and interact at various levels. Drawing on the Local Adaptive Capacity framework developed by the ACCRA consortium, this paper develops a smallholder adaptive capacity framework identifying key characteristics of particular relevance to smallscale farmers. This framework pays particular attention to farmer agency and important dynamic processes such as market engagement. The characteristics are grouped into the following three levels to emphasise the important, if complex, relationships and dependencies between the different elements: Level 1: Agency, at the centre, links all the different elements and levels Level 2: These are core attributes or capabilities that facilitate other processes Level 3: These are key processes, enabled as a result of the existence of certain core attributes Impact of farmer organisations and Fairtrade on adaptation: the evidence Drawing on the smallholder adaptive capacity framework introduced in the previous section, recent studies and research findings are reviewed to identify what theoretical arguments and empirical evidence there is that farmer organisations and/or Fairtrade contribute to smallholder adaptive capacity. Both the case study and theoretical literature suggest that membership of a farmer organisation such as a co-operative and involvement in Fairtrade can enhance the adaptive capacity of smallholders in a number of ways, including: better access to services, including credit and savings institutions and extension services; strengthened social capital within local communities which in turn can facilitate agency and innovation; enhanced financial capital, both through increased and more stable incomes, and improved access to credit;