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German research study finds positive benefits for Fairtrade cocoa-bean farmers

16 July 2021

Fairtrade/Chris Terry

A woman collects water on a cocoa farm in Côte d’Ivoire

A woman collects water on a cocoa farm in Côte d’Ivoire

FAIRTRADE-certified cocoa-bean farmers and their families are enjoying higher living standards than their non-Fairtrade-certified colleagues, new research from German academics suggests. Fairtrade certification is found to have no effect, however, on food security among these households.

The study from the University of Göttingen, Effects of Fairtrade on Farm Household Food Security and Living Standards, published last month, analyses data from 500 randomly selected cocoa-farming households in Côte d’Ivoire, on the south coast of West Africa, half of which are Fairtrade certified.

Côte d’Ivoire is the largest global producer and trader of cocoa in the world, and cocoa is the primary source of income for most of the households surveyed, accounting on average for 76 per cent of total income.

On average, the study finds that Fairtrade farmers spend nine per cent more on household goods or services that are not food — primarily education and transport — than non-Fairtrade certified farmers. This gap increases to 14 per cent among farming families who live below the international poverty line of £2.31 a day. For these households, income is spent primarily on housing and clothing.

This is due in part to the positive effects that being Fairtrade has on crop incomes, through higher output prices and yields, the study finds. Being Fairtrade also improves farmers’ access to agronomic training and technology that could also lead to higher crop yields.

Higher incomes mean that Fairtrade farmers spend significantly more on education for their children (33 per cent), transportation (28 per cent), and leisure or socialising (12 per cent) than their non-Fairtrade counterparts, suggesting a higher quality of life, the report says. Fairtrade standards also prohibit child labour, and the foundation provides guidance on intervening where child labour is identified.

Responding to the research, the Regional Cocoa Manager at Fairtrade Africa, Anne-Marie Yao, explained: “This study confirms that Fairtrade means more money in the pockets of the poorest certified cocoa farmers to spend on essentials beyond the daily need for food. Earning enough money to afford education and healthcare are things we all take for granted but are crucial to be able to live with dignity.”

The indicators listed in the study, however, show no significant difference between the food security of Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade households. The researchers suggest that this is because of the seasonal nature of cocoa farming: revenue comes in twice a year and is often controlled by male heads of household rather than women, who are traditionally responsible for buying and preparing food.

“This may explain why most of the extra money earned from the proceeds of growing cocoa tends to be spent on non-food essentials like education, housing, and socialising, typically chosen by men,” a press release from the Fairtrade Foundation explained. “Where women are the head of a household and control the income, Fairtrade studies show that more money is spent on food and nutrition.”

Ms Yao said that this finding highlighted the importance of Fairtrade’s Women’s School of Leadership in Côte d’Ivoire, and its emphasis on gender-inclusive household economics through its West Africa Cocoa Programme. She said: “The research demonstrates why more needs to be done to challenge the gender gap, enabling women to have a more equal share in household decisions and succeed on their own terms.”

The Fairtrade Foundation has launched “Bitter Sweet”: a new celebrity-backed campaign to encourage consumers to choose Fairtrade products, such as chocolate, and improve the lives of Fairtrade farmers. The campaign features a stop-motion animation Unwrap a Fairer Future — released on World Chocolate Day, Wednesday of last week — about the reportedly unethical cocoa-sourcing of global chocolate manufacturers.

The actor Adjoa Andoh, known for her role in Bridgerton, said: “Every bar of chocolate that you buy, every cocoa bean, means decent health-care, education, a collective voice all the way through the supply chain.”

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