Reclaiming the essence of sustainability towards systemic change

The world faces innumerable challenges, unprecedented in scale and the way in which they mutually reinforce one another. Smallholder farmers, workers and miners are among the true heroes in the battle to tackle these challenges, such as the climate crisis and persisting inequalities; yet their voices are often unheard among the decision-makers in our global value chains. This must change, and together with our RECLAIM Sustainability! consortium partners, we strive for systemic change to reclaim the essence of sustainability and to eradicate poverty in all its forms. We work with a variety of stakeholders, with an essential role for the producers at the heart of these value chains.

reclaim sustainability

Together with our consortium partners, we reflect on some of our activities in 2021, when the programme was first implemented, and look forward to a number of activities in 2022 in our work towards genuine sustainability.

Advocating sustainability through dialogue and inclusion

An important part of our work under RECLAIM Sustainability! is advocating for greater inclusivity and sustainability through multi-stakeholder dialogues, workshops and capacity building activities. Several partners in our consortium worked on this in 2021.

At Solidaridad East and Central Africa, we organized field visits in 2021 to a variety of tea estates in Uganda. Our inception activities brought together key tea stakeholders to better understand the existing challenges and opportunities, and deliberate on strategies for unlocking the potential in the tea sub-sector. The stakeholders involved various actors from the private and public sector, as well as farmer cooperatives/unions. They called for collective action and collaboration through the RECLAIM Sustainability! programme to facilitate inclusive multi-stakeholder dialogues, accelerate disruptive innovations and technologies, and amplify the voices of all actors to ensure sustainability.

To contribute to an inclusive tea value chain, the programme is conducting a survey to gain insights into land rights, gender issues, natural resources management issues at household level, and unfair market systems within tea buying factories and agents. 

“The findings of the survey will be used to organize small tea growers at the district and national levels to ensure that the ‘true voices of small tea growers’ in Uganda are represented in decision making. Establishing strong farmer groups will provide smallholder tea farmers with a platform to dialogue and influence decision-making on issues affecting them,” said Alex Amanya, Project Manager in Uganda.

A focus group discussion with farmers in Kagadi district, led by Alex Amanya, Project Manager for the RECLAIM Sustainability! tea programme

In the meantime, Fundación Solidaridad Latinoamericana – Central America is working to generate disruptive innovations and inclusive dialogues that will change and strengthen the situation of producers and workers in the coffee and palm sectors in Honduras. In April 2021, the Honduran government published the “Coffee Sub Sector Gender Policy” as an official document. Partners CONACAFE and Solidaridad have been working on drafting an implementation strategy that will be executed in 2022. 

Moreover, Solidaridad began with capacity building in the palm sector in 2021 to implement a decent work model. So far 729 out of 4,047 stakeholders, including workers, smallholder producers, owners and social enterprise leaders have received training in 3 of the model’s 12 key-topic pillars. In 2022, we will reach all stakeholders with capacity building in the initial 6 pillars.

Palm sector stakeholders (members of palm oil cooperatives – smallholder producers themselves) participate in a workshop activity in Honduras to identify ethical business behavior

In November 2021, Solidaridad Southern Africa supported a multi-stakeholder workshop with the Tea Association of Malawi, with the participation of some key policy makers, such as the Ethical Tea Partnership, civil society organizations such as TrustAfrica, and private sector players. It was clear throughout the workshop that a lot of work has been done around issues of efficiency and environmental sustainability, however, there is still a lot more effort required towards inclusivity and visibility. The participants agreed that youth development and women’s economic empowerment would become areas of great priority for 2022, and that intentional effort needs to be exerted towards positive change. 

In 2022 we will apply the lessons from this policy analysis to identify the gaps and start supporting the industry in developing key messages that will be presented to different platforms as well as the government to help the industry to grow and be more inclusive. The project will further support the tea growers and workers with advocating for the improvement of policies and regulatory frameworks on housing, literacy rates, sanitation and healthcare access for tea workers, including sexual reproductive health services for female workers. 

Delegates at the Tea Association of Malawi workshop in November 2021

Meanwhile, Solidaridad West Africa initiated inclusive dialogues in 2021 geared at empowering stakeholders in the oil palm and cocoa sectors in Ghana. Under the fair value distribution theme, we supported actors in the oil palm value chain to initiate a dialogue to develop a mechanism that will guide the determination of prices. Recommendations for a pricing mechanism have been documented in a report and submitted to the Government of Ghana to be reviewed and adopted. Furthermore, Solidaridad and TrustAfrica jointly trained 210 members of seven cocoa cooperatives across five regions of Ghana in land tenure, land governance monitoring tools, and advocacy. 

A new land act was passed in the last quarter of 2020. Although the new act has harmonized all the existing land bills and made provision for customary land tenure, including guidelines to secure such lands, stakeholders were not aware of procedures for land documentation in their traditional areas to lay claim to their farmlands. In 2022, we will support local civil society actors by enhancing their capacity on the cocoa pricing mechanism and land tenure system to participate and further engage in dialogues.

Representatives of cocoa cooperatives engage in group discussion at the land tenure workshop in November 2021. Seth Kankam Nuamah, Programme Coordinator for RECLAIM Sustainability! (middle) assists in the discussion

Collecting evidence and launching research findings

In 2021, Solidaridad Asia engaged in a number of activities under the RECLAIM Sustainability! programme, such as collecting evidence on the trade and sustainability status of the Indonesian tea sector from representatives of government, research agencies, professional organizations, farmers, and corporates. This included the Indonesia Tea Council, major tea exporters and local tea producers, and a variety of other stakeholders, who provided recommendations on the enhancement of Indonesia’s tea export market.

In January 2022, Solidaridad released the “Myths and Truths of Oil Palm”, a research-based scientific study that provides information and assessments on palm oil through an in-depth literature review on research findings by over 15 leading scientists from top universities and research institutions across Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. 

A result of extensive research, the publication vividly portrays the social, economic and environmental impacts of oil palm production. The research paper was launched in a hybrid event, attended by a large variety of stakeholders from Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands and other parts of the world.

The launch event of the “Myths and Truths of Oil Palm” publication in January 2022 

Spreading awareness on tea sustainability

In 2021, Business Watch Indonesia produced a semi-documentary short film “Warisan” (Legacy). This film tells about the dilemmatic life of Indonesian tea farmers, with cast members being tea farmers, pickers, and their families. It was released in 2 versions, Bahasa, and a version with English subtitles (Legacy). The first version has reached more than 37K viewers since first released on 10 January 2022, and the second version was released on 1 February 2022 with more than a thousand viewers.

The film production collaborates with Tani Link and both versions are published on YouTube, under Tani Link TV’s – a channel that focuses on supporting the agricultural sector, plantations, agribusiness development and farmer welfare. “Warisan” was produced for the advocacy process of the Indonesian tea sector by describing one of the realities in the farmers’ lives, with the aim of raising awareness among members of the government and the public. The expectation is that it will help raise support from various parties for the sustainability of the Indonesian tea sector.

Fostering traceability and transparency

Fairfood sees transparency as the missing piece in reaching more inclusive supply chains for our food. Add traceability to the mix, and food companies would have the recipe in hand to start distributing value over their supply chains more evenly. Fairfood began three pilot projects in 2021 to prove the business case for transparency and traceability. These projects allow us to trace batches of cocoa and coffee all the way from Sierra Leone, Honduras and Uganda straight into Dutch supermarkets, using Fairfood’s traceability platform Trace.

The first challenge in kicking off the projects was addressed in 2021: identifying key actors’ relationships. John Cherek, Fairfood’s Programme Manager Value Chain Innovation, visited stakeholders in Sierra Leone to start mapping these relationships and thus lay the foundation for the project. “The message from the farmers couldn’t be more clear”, he says. “‘Bokú money, happy farmer!’ – Bokú being the Krio word for ‘plenty’, derived from the French word ‘beaucoup’. I really hope we will be chanting this together in the coming years.” Looking ahead, 2022 will have Fairfood assessing the bean-to-bar/cup price build-up to develop business models that allow farmers to escape poverty.

Cocoa farmers from Sierra Leone are being introduced to the Trace app

Advocating for inclusive policy and legislation 

In Peru, the start of the RECLAIM Sustainability! programme in 2021 was shaped by the partnership between Solidaridad and the Ministry of Energy and Mines for promoting the new national policy for Artisanal and Small-scale Mining (ASM) in Peru, which encourages the sustainable development of ASM in economic, social and environmental terms. Over 20 discussion forums, Fundación Solidaridad Latinoamericana – South America enabled inclusive dialogues between 25 ASM leaders, 36 women miners and 67 government officials, ensuring that voices and expectations of all miners are considered in the formulation of this policy. 

Additionally, Solidaridad worked with 8 women mining leaders from different regions to create the country’s first National Network of ASM Women (NNAW), which will group 20 mining women’s associations at the national level in its first phase. In 2022, Solidaridad will support the implementation of the new ASM policy at the national level and will accompany the consolidation of the NNAW.

Mrs. Mery Machicado from the Federation of Gold Mining Cooperatives of Northern La Paz (Bolivia) shares with her Peruvian peers key lessons learned in the quest for recognizing the rights of women miners

Meanwhile, in 2021 at Solidaridad Europe we advocated for the adoption of international supply chain legislation that will have a positive impact on the environment, and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, workers and miners. Notably, several of our recommendations on smallholder inclusiveness, and on partnerships between the European Union and producing countries, were included in the steps taken by the EU towards adopting such legislation.

We actively advocate moving beyond only voluntary sustainability initiatives by companies, and welcome mandatory measures for corporations as part of a smart mix of measures to address issues in international supply chains. At the same time, we are concerned that regulations might restrict EU market access for smallholder farmers, workers and miners if they are unable to meet the new requirements, or might shoulder them with additional costs and requirements that hinder compliance. We see the need to adopt strong complementary measures to support producing countries. 2021 was marked by several important milestones on this journey towards adopting regulatory frameworks that work for smallholder farmers, workers and miners. We have continuously raised our voices in the EU lobby arena to influence the development of fair and producer-inclusive legislation by the European Commission. 

This has laid a solid foundation for us to continue our work in 2022 on advocating for inclusive legislation on EU level, also supported by our citizen campaigns, jointly with a coalition of European organizations.

Black Friday protest action in November 2021 in the Netherlands, with the aim of highlighting the continuing vulnerable position of workers in the textile industry. Heske Verburg, managing director of Solidaridad Europe, is in conversation with two interested passers-by

About RECLAIM Sustainability!

RECLAIM Sustainability! is a five-year programme implemented in strategic partnership with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This global programme is active across 17 countries in cocoa, coffee, tea, palm oil, cotton & textiles, and gold; with a special focus on the local food systems in Africa. 

In this programme, we strive for a radical re-balancing of power and genuine transformation that benefits the smallholder farmers, workers and miners at the beginning of the value chains. After all, there can be no genuine sustainability when the people who produce the goods consumed by us all continue living in poverty; when natural resources are not managed sustainably; civic space in many countries is limited or even continues to shrink, and the working conditions of millions of producers are abject. 

Visit our programme page to find out more about our solutions and way of working. Interested to work together with us? Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.