Updated on April 17, 2019

The UN estimates that there are more than 500 million family farmers worldwide. These small-scale farmers face a unique set of challenges. They often struggle to achieve a sustainable livelihood because of high costs and low prices, and it can be difficult to access the inputs and services that would improve their business.

Unlike the Fairtrade International program, the UTZ program is open to all farmers, from big plantations to smallholders Cocoa_IvoryCoast_farmerfieldschool04– but we tailor our approach to make sure different types of farmers see the benefits. To find out how the UTZ program specifically works with small farmers we caught up with Siriki Diakité, our West Africa representative who is based in Côte D’Ivoire, where we work with more than 193,000 small cocoa farmers. He explains that empowering small farmers in a group is key to creating positive impact.

The power of groups

“Most cocoa farmers in West Africa have small farms, averaging around 3 hectares”, says Diakité. That’s about 4 football fields. “Working at this scale, it can be very difficult to earn enough income.”

“That’s why so many small farmers come together in a group, often called a cooperative,” says Diakité. “They benefit from economies of scale when it comes to the inputs they need like seedlings and fertilizers, they get access to training to improve their business, and it gives them a stronger voice in the supply chain.”

Management, efficiency and transparency

Kenya coffee recordkeeping traceability

Forming a group is the first step – but it’s also very important that the group is run well. How does that work? Diakité explains: “When a farmer group wants to become UTZ certified, they must put a whole range of management practices in place, including hiring staff to oversee the certification processes. They should keep detailed records of the farmers in the group, and do regular inspections of all the farms.”

Farmers also receive training from the farmer group on many topics, from good agricultural practices to social issues and newer challenges like dealing with climate change.”

“Good management also ensures that payments and premiums are managed and distributed in a transparent way.”

It can be a challenge for a farmer group to put these processes in place, but strong management brings big benefits for the individual farmers and for the group as a whole. “For example,” Diakité explains, “training in good agricultural practices makes it possible for farmers to increase their yields and the quality of their cocoa – and therefore their income. The group can see which farmers have the highest yields, explore the reasons why, and ensure all farmers have the training or other support they need to increase productivity.”

Women and young people

The UTZ standard also requires that farmer groups take action to include women and young people, both as members and as leaders of the group. “This is important for farmer groups,” says Diakité, “as it means they can benefit from the experience and expertise of the whole community. With an aging population of farmers threatening the supply of cocoa in the future, it also helps to make sure the next generation is ready and willing to take over from their parents.”

Female cocoa farmers joining a Farmer Field School in Ghana

Female cocoa farmers joining a Farmer Field School in Ghana

Better equipped to deal with challenges

Many of the challenges faced by farmers have causes beyond the farm gate, which means they can be very difficult for farmers to deal with if they are working alone. “When it comes to a topic like child labor,” says Diakité, “it’s important that farmers can work in a group to tackle the issue. If you stop children working at one farm, they will just go to the farm next door.”

“In the UTZ program, the farmer group must do a risk assessment to identify any risk of child labor and take action to prevent it or deal with it. A strong farmer group can lead change throughout the whole community – raising awareness of the issue, spotting any cases that do occur, and finding solutions to get the child back into school.”

Certification and beyond

Strengthening farmer groups is one of the six topics that we are working on through our Sector Partnerships Program, alongside climate change, living wages, gender equality, child labor, and productivity. Certification has a huge impact, but these are all topics where we need to work with other important stakeholders – civil society, governments, and companies – to drive change at the sector level.