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Public ‘unaware’ of climate threat to their food

04 March 2022

Nyokabi Kahura

Caroline Rono and her friend Romana enjoy a mug of tea at Ms Rono’s home in front of the coffee bushes

Caroline Rono and her friend Romana enjoy a mug of tea at Ms Rono’s home in front of the coffee bushes

CLIMATE change is causing a drastic decline in the production of bananas, cocoa, and coffee; but most consumers in the UK are not aware of it, a new poll suggests. The decline is expected to lead to shortages and price rises.

The results of a survey to gauge shoppers’ awareness of the effects of climate change and exploitative trading practices on food production was published to coincide with Fairtrade Fortnight, which runs until 6 March.

More than 60 per cent of the 2000 adults polled at the end of January were not aware of the forecast decline in the yields of some foods.

Scientific research, published last autumn, found that drastic decline in these crops would happen in at least ten countries, including India, Brazil, and Colombia. A temperature rise of 2.1ºC could leave almost 90 per cent of land currently used to cultivate cocoa unsuitable by 2050.

The survey found that three-quarters of the public believed that it was important that producers overseas were helped to adapt to climate change. Two-thirds said that they would not buy a product if they knew that it was linked to exploitative trade practices or human-rights abuses.

The consumer survey, commissioned by the Fairtrade Foundation and run by Opinium, suggests that, although public understanding of the links between reasonable incomes for farmers and climate resilience is low, there is a strong public willingness to address inequality caused by exploitative trade and climate change.

The survey also looked at whether the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased awareness of Britain’s colonial past had affected people’s understanding of exploitative trade. Only one quarter of British people said that they were more aware of the exploitation of people caused by the UK’s colonial past as a result, and only one fifth said that they had considered how to make consumer choices to avoid supporting exploitation today. One in ten said that they believed that damaging and exploitative trading practices were a thing of the past.

Most respondents said that more should be done to prevent harmful trade practices and the climate crisis, and that the Government should treat the climate emergency with the same urgency as it had Covid-19.

Fewer than half of those asked, however, regarded buying Fairtrade products as a form of climate activism.

The director of the Graduate Institute for International Development, Agriculture and Economics at the University of Reading, Dr Sarah Cardey, said that consumers had the power to change people’s lives with their shopping choices.

“Smallholder farmers in low-income countries are on the front lines of the climate crisis, with droughts, floods, and storms severely threatening livelihoods of producers across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For these farmers and workers, a decent income is absolutely essential for building resilience to climate shocks, and ensuring they can adapt to a continually evolving climate.

“Without good wages, their livelihoods are severely threatened — as is the supply of everyday products these farmers and workers produce. Consumers have the power to make a difference to producers’ lives by choosing Fairtrade products when they do their shopping. This, in turn, will help producers to build climate resilience, allowing them to continue producing items, like tea, coffee, and bananas, that we consume every day.”

The chief executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, Michael Gidney, said: “It’s clear that the public want to see an end to trade that exploits those who produce the commodities we rely on every day — particularly in the context of climate. By choosing Fairtrade, they can make a real, tangible difference to the lives of people who grow much of the food we love to eat in the UK.”

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