One of my core principles when looking at how to drive transformational change is that there needs to be an underlying economic driver if the change is to be sustained.
This could mean a community making money from Nature–based Tourism, for example, to encourage the protection of an ecosystem. Or receiving income from solar panels to encourage their installation. Or being provided with an additional premium for growing Fairtrade crops – especially if one of those crops happens to help make chocolate!
I've been looking at this last one over the last month (unfortunately not just for chocolate) and have been amazed by the elegant simplicity of the Fairtrade System and what it can help achieve for many of the poorest farmers and their families.
In the Asia–Pacific Region, this support for the poorest smallholders is going to become increasingly important as we head into a time when climate change impacts are forecast to multiply and become ever more unpredictable.
These farmers are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet when it comes to climate change and with the population also continuing to rise (to 8.5 billion by 2030 according to the UN's latest forecast), they're going to need to find ways to increase the productivity of their smallholdings at a time when doing so is likely to be much harder than in the past.
This is where established systems like Fairtrade's have a distinct role to play as they can support these smallholders over the long–term with a guaranteed price for their produce as well as providing them with additional 'Fairtrade Premium' payments that the community then decides how to use. Past Premiums have been used for things like education, crop enhancements or improved sanitation.
Because they're an existing and scaleable solution to some of the core challenges facing the world, it's perhaps unsurprising that the United Nations are looking at them as one of the key organisations that will help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next two and a half decades.
This should mean that we'll end up seeing a whole load more Fairtrade products in the Developed World (including that chocolate I seem to keep mentioning!), which in turn will mean a whole load more farmers and their families lifting themselves out of poverty and taking control of their lives.
Now this growth in Fairtrade is certainly not a foregone conclusion given there are many complex and entrenched issues with our existing trade system that will need to be overcome. But the Fairtrade System has been tried and tested for nearly 30 years now and is already operating in more than 125 countries involving over 1.6 million farmers and generating global sales in excess of US$ 8.2 billion.
This scale and reach probably needs to increase by at least a factor of 5 over the next 25 years to have a meaningful impact on some of the poverty, hunger and climate change challenges we face, but with the renewed impetus that seems to be coming with the SDGs this kind of growth is certainly not out of the question.
If this kind of growth is to be achieved however, it will not just be due to the UN or even Fairtrade itself. It will also require people like you or I to actually permanently change our purchasing habits and make sure we embrace Fairtrade wherever and whenever we find it.
To that end, start looking for that Fairtrade logo when buying your coffee, tea, bananas and, yes, chocolate!
As well as finding the price isn't actually that far off the non–Fairtrade version, you'll most likely find the taste will dramatically improve as you take that first sip or bite knowing that you are actually supporting some of those in this part of the world who need your help the most.
To find where Fairtrade products can be purchased in Australia click here.