Keeping Change Moving When Everything Stops

Many of us are finding silver linings in the global shutdown, even as we fret about the fate of our more vulnerable partners in farming communities bound to suffer dearly from the economic fall-out of the pandemic. While comparatively small, the opportunity to engage for longer, more reflective conversations is one such silver lining.  The Living income Community of Practice, co-hosted by the Food Lab, ISEAL and GIZ,  shifted our annual workshop originally planned for Abidjan in April, to a series of three virtual workshops.  Our first one on April 7 was a vibrant exploration of the tensions, challenges and partial successes in work to achieve living incomes in small farming communities. Over 250 of our partners from around the world attended the 4.5 hour workshop and listened to the updates from the tea, coffee and cocoa sectors on their work to bring living wage and income other for tea pickers and small farmers, to tackle the complexity in the many and diverse origins and market segment of coffee around the world, and the need to incorporate higher prices while not causing oversupply and future market crashes in the process.
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The journey towards living incomes requires a systemic analysis and approach.  We must ask if the combined effect of the market terms, agricultural investment programs and policy mechanisms adds up to the ability of farmers to make a living income.  Antonie Fountain, VOICE Network, called on the industry to acknowledge fair pricing as one indispensable element of a holistic living income strategy. He also stressed: “A living income reference price must be based on the current reality of the average cocoa farmers, not of the outliers or the best or the top half.”  But how do governments support those farmers without the conditions (farm size, access to markets, climate vulnerability) to make a living income find other options to generate income?  What is the industry’s role in just transitions?

Considering the need to take a global approach to living income was highlighted by actors in the tea sector. Eberhard Krain, GIZ, stressed: “It is important to work on living income not in isolation but in connection with other human rights and sustainability themes.” Judith Fraats pointed out that a level playing field among producing countries is highly needed to not undermine sustainability achievements by a loss in global competitiveness. Building on lessons learnt from Malawi Tea 2020, both GIZ and IDH will broaden their living wage and living income work in tea to further East African countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya.

A summary and recording of the April Living Income Community of Practice Workshop is available here. The next Living income Community of Practice Virtual Workshop is May 27.


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