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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Is the FT4ALL initiative really for “all”?

FT4All4by Martha del Rio and Marc Adam

As the name states, Fair Trade for All (FT4ALL), a new certification developed by Fair Trade USA (FTUSA), is an innovative model to reach more farmers, farm workers, and communities.

FTUSA split off from Fairtrade International (FLO) in 2011, aiming to expand Fair Trade opportunities to independent smallholders and farm workers on medium and large size coffee farms. While FLO only includes smallholders that are organized in cooperatives, it can be argued that independent smallholders and farm workers are in as much, if not more, need of a Fair Trade premium as those in cooperatives. 

But what impact does FT4ALL really have on farmers and farm workers? That is the question behind the impact study that the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and partners are conducting in Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Brazil.

In the case of independent smallholders, the FT4ALL standard stipulates that there must be a continuous organization process among the certified smallholders. The organization of independent smallholders is one of the key ambitions of the new certification as these farmers often lack market access that forces them to “take it or leave it” when offered a price from buyers that find their way into remote coffee communities. FT4ALL is attempting to boost farmers’ market power by linking independent farmers with more direct business channels.

FT4All1However, this organizational process is also one of the largest obstacles that CIAT identified while recently collecting baseline data in northern Peru. “When I interviewed the only household in Tierra Blanca that is part of the FT4ALL pilot of independent smallholders in Peru, I had to walk 2 hours to reach it. It is not even accessible by car or motorbike,” explained Martha Del Rio who is leading the fieldwork in Peru, Nicaragua and Honduras. The Farmers dispersed throughout the Peruvian departments of Cajamarca and Lambayeque have a number of obstacles to overcome in order to form a committee and pursue common commercialization.

With respect medium and large size farms, CIAT is assessing the impact of FT4ALL on farmworkers at La Revancha – a coffee farm with 65 permanent and 370 temporal workers last harvest season – in Nicaragua. For FT4ALL to be successful, it is crucial to increase the scope, impact, and relevancy of Fair Trade premium investments for all workers on the farm, but especially for temporal workers who are particularly vulnerable to poverty and are more difficult to reach with Fair Trade initiatives. While both permanent and temporal farm workers have equal rights in deciding what to use the premium for, it appears to be much harder to motivate temporal workers to participate in year-round decision-making process.


Another lingering question about the FT4ALL initiative is how the market will react. Will competition between cooperatives, independent smallholders, and medium and large scale estates benefit the latter at the cost of smallholders, since profit seeking FT coffee buyers are likely to purchase from the most cost-efficient producer? Or will consumers react positively to the new certification and start to buy more FT coffee so that everyone benefits?

The contrast between independent smallholders and large estates, participants of the same market, characterizes the diverse circumstances in this project. The final impact evaluation study will thus include not only the impact of FT4ALL on the welfare of individuals covered by the certification. Researchers are also analyzing the organizational process of independent smallholders and farmworkers, as well as the overall Fair Trade market.

FT4All2While interviews in Nicaragua are still running, CIAT is already preparing for data collection in Honduras, which will begin at the end of this month.

See related stories:

Understanding the impact of the Fair Trade for All initiative, cup by cup

Arabica’s magic skin

FTUSA steps up on impact measurement

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