Social Enterprise: The Lutheran World Relief and Fair Trade USA Empower Farmers to Fight Poverty

The Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is a social enterprise empowering farmers and workers to fight poverty, improve the lives of their families and communities and protect the land on which they work. A strong supporter of Fair Trade, it is collaborating with Fair Trade USA to strengthen Fair Trade coffee cooperatives. It is helping coffee growers to improve quality, increase productivity and improve access to capital—all to become stronger businesses. Fair Trade USA and its partners have helped farmers and workers earn more than $225 million in additional income and enabled projects in more than 70 countries worldwide that improve business capacity, community infrastructure, social investment and environmental protection. Paul Rice, President and CEO of Fair Trade USA says, “We are honoured to partner with Lutheran World Relief to build a stronger foundation for small-scale farmers around the world. We firmly believe that this type of collaboration is essential to helping co-ops remain strong and competitive now and in the future.”

At the heart of this social enterprise collaboration is the belief that Fair Trade is part of the solution to eradicate global poverty. LWR through its Fair Trade programs has sold more than 1,300 tons of Fair Trade coffee, tea and cocoa; more than $5 million worth of handcrafts; and $1.5 million worth of Fair Trade chocolate to Lutherans in America. LWR works directly with farmer cooperatives, assisting them in quality improvement and obtaining Fair Trade certification. In Uganda, LWR has helped more than 6,000 coffee farmers increase their production of Fair Trade coffee by almost 75% in just three years, significantly boosting family incomes. In Nicaragua this social enterprise organisation has helped more than 1,760 farmers sell more than $19 million worth of coffee and cocoa over the last five years, and created more than 6,000 permanent jobs.

Building on these successes, LWR and Fair Trade USA are now working in Indonesia. They have collaborated with Progreso with generous funding from the Rabobank Foundation. Together these organisations joined forces earlier in 2012 to partner with eight coffee cooperatives in Aceh, a mountainous region on the island of Sumatra. The coffee here is wonderful, yet due to insufficient business training and limited access to market, these farmers are still struggling to make ends meet.

Behind most of the items we consume daily are farmers struggling to survive and support their families. Living in poor, rural regions of the world small-scale farmers who produce these products have little ability to negotiate fair prices for their goods. In conventional trade, middlemen take advantage of the small-scale farmer’s weak negotiating power and limited access to market, paying unfair low prices that barely cover the cost of farming. This leaves little money for food, medicine, clothes or even education for their children. This is why partnerships like this based around the ethos of Fair Trade are crucial to the survival of farmers globally, as without them our lives and cupboards would be bare.

Photo Credit: Lutheran World Relief