Fair Trade Supports Climate Solutions

In 2014, the U.N. reported that at current erosion rates, less than 60 years of farmable soil remains on our planet before we lose this precious living membrane to wind and water erosion. Meanwhile, increasing temperatures are causing more frequent and severe climate catastrophes. No one is immune to the global climate crisis, but those least responsible for human-caused climate change are often the most severely impacted.

In Central America, for example, a 5-year drought has caused catastrophic crop failures. Central American small-holder farmers and their families have become climate refugees, forced to choose between a perilous migration north, or face starvation in their home countries. More extreme weather means either too little rain or too much all at once. Indian farmers have weathered their worst 15 floods on record—all within the past decade. These unpredictable weather events cause massive crop failures. Deaths from extreme weather have increased as families are stranded in disaster or try to escape with minimal resources.

We need simple and direct climate solutions—and we need them now. But what are climate solutions? We know that carbon emissions are a primary cause of climate change—so practices that draw carbon out of the atmosphere are a good start. Storing carbon in the soil is how our planet has been self-regulating for millennia, and regenerating our soil carbon levels through agriculture is an effective, low-tech approach. Increasing soil carbon levels has the added benefit of improving soil’s water percolation and holding capacity. The soil’s ability to absorb and hold water not only supports thriving ecosystems, but also helps mitigate major rain events. Land that can absorb water is less likely to flood and wash away from erosion.

Climate solutions must also focus on community empowerment and climate resilience. Communities with solid social structures in place—like an emergency response plan that includes identification of people with special needs, how resources will be distributed, and reliable external relationships—are better situated to cope with and recover from climate disasters. Fair trade relationships give back financial resources and encourage local organizing to help build this kind of climate resilience.

Fair Trade and Environmental Stewardship 

Fair trade goes beyond paying fair prices for raw materials—we believe that environmental stewardship is also a key part of long-term trading relationships. If fair trade truly honors the people and communities who produce our raw materials, in addition to ensuring a stable economic future for them, we must make sure these farmers and producers have a healthy, thriving environment. To this end, Dr. Bronner’s is dedicated to adapting our major raw material supply chains to regenerative organic practices—to improve soil health, revive ecosystems, and protect communities around the world.

So-called “conventional” agriculture—with its heavy use of chemical inputs, aggressive tillage, mass deforestation and monocropping—is highly destructive to the environment and a major contributor to climate change. Regenerative organic agriculture, on the other hand, gets back to our roots of farming in harmony with nature. Apart from helping small-holder farmers increase yields and profits, it also promotes biodiversity and land conservation, while prohibiting genetic engineering and highly toxic agricultural chemicals inputs. It also seeks to grow (or regenerate) soil, which is crucial if we are to succeed in reversing out-of-control erosion and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Dr. Bronner’s is implementing Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) standards with several of our supply partners around the globe. While already organic and fair trade—baseline requirements for ROC—Dr. Bronner’s suppliers are taking additional measures to increase soil organic matter, or carbon. These practices include 1) conservation tillage, mulching and intensified crop rotations (mint oil, Pavitramenthe, India), 2) vermicompost and mulching (coconut oil, Serendipol, Sri Lanka), and 3) Dynamic Agroforesty (palm oil, Serendipalm, Ghana).  Some of our suppliers are currently undergoing audits in hopes of those raw materials becoming Regenerative Organic Certified by the end of this year.

Additionally, farmers at Dr. Bronner’s Ghanaian fair trade palm oil supply partner—Serendipalm—practice tree conservation and plant buffer zones around waterways. Trees and diverse vegetation help draw carbon into the soil, increasing fertility and native wildlife species. Tree plantings and buffer zones help the soil hold more water. More water in the soil means less water moves over the ground surface—less erosion! The soil is literally held to together by thick, stable root systems from firmly rooted plants! These practices benefit both economic security and environmental resilience.

Fair Trade Helps Communities Weather the Storms

A key part of fair trading is the fair trade premium—an additional 10% over a commodity’s fair trade price. The fair trade premium paid by our customers goes into a Fair Trade Fund for each supply partner we buy from. Money from the Fair Trade Fund is democratically allocated to community projects by a Fair Trade Committee. Committees are diverse and composed of farmers, farm workers, processing facility staff and laborers. Some of the funds help build infrastructure, like freshwater pumps, bridges, medical facilities and public toilet facilities. Other funds go toward school fees, uniforms and supplies for local children. Vocational training for young adults is also supported, with an emphasis on educating girls and young women.

Educating girls and young women is not only a social benefit to local communities—it also happens to be one of the top-ten climate solutions laid out by Paul Hawken in his meticulously-researched book Drawdown. Hawken shows how education better prepares individuals and communities for climate crises, by connecting traditional knowledge with the current context. Women in particular are lynchpins of families and communities, and when empowered with education, they increasingly support resource management. In times of disaster these are critical skills for supporting the organization of communities as they work to salvage what was lost and rebuild their futures.

While we work to lessen the catastrophic impacts of climate change through fair trade and regenerative organic agriculture, Dr. Bronner’s recognizes that climate solutions are not just the responsibility of farmers and producers. Each of us can do our part! From backyard composting and organic gardening, to knowing your farmer and their sustainability practices, choosing fair trade brands and brands committed to regenerative organic agriculture, to practicing the 5-R’s of sustainability—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle—every little bit helps!


Author Profile

Astarae Metcalf

As Dr. Bronner's Senior Strategic Partnerships and Campaigns Manager, Astarae Metcalf has worked on many public education, sales and marketing, and political campaigns to advance hemp, regenerative organic agriculture, social equity, the environment, and other issues.

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