Living Income: Businesses, Researchers, NGOs, and Farmers Convene to Improve the Lives and Livelihoods of Producer Households


Living wage 2
Cocoa farmers Adrien and Marie-Lor Kouadio Koffi and their children. (Photo Credit: Nice and Serious)

By Jessica Grillo, Rainforest Alliance Senior Advisor for Livelihoods and member of the Technical Committee of the Living Income Community of Practice (CoP)

A little more than a month after the Living Income Community of Practice (COP) workshop in Berlin, as we move into the new year, I find myself reflecting on the Rainforest Alliance’s work on living income over the last five years and thinking ahead to what comes next.

The December workshop, jointly and successfully led by ISEAL Alliance, Sustainable Food Lab, and GIZ, was well attended and generated a lot of enthusiasm among the participating companies, researchers, standards systems, farmer representatives, and civil society organizations. The first part of the workshop focused on ‘cost of living’ estimates and ‘living income’ benchmarks. It resulted in general agreement on the importance of living income benchmarks for setting targets and catalyzing actions to improve producer household incomes. Most participants agreed on an adapted version of the Anker Methodology[i] as the gold standard. It was observed however that this approach may not always be practical due to time and financial constraints, and in such cases a complementary stop-gap approach may be required.

The second part of the workshop focused on “Assessments of Current Income Levels.” The methodologies have evolved substantially in quality and substance over the last few years. One piece of research that stood out was presented by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). Its recent farmer income research, commissioned by UTZ, was methodologically strong and comprehensive, yet with sensible simplifications that demonstrated a real effort to design action research that is fit for purpose and actionable.

Several organizations and companies that have been piloting living income initiatives presented their experiences on the range of mechanisms that could be employed to help close income gaps. While some of these strategies were quite familiar – group strengthening, productivity increases, savings groups, enterprise diversification, and gender equity – others were less so. Samuel Adimado, Kuapa Kokoo’s Managing Director, gave a welcome presentation on the work that his group is doing around enterprise diversification and climate resiliency, in collaboration with Rainforest Alliance and others. This brought into the conversation the critical topic of farmer resiliency, and the impact of weather-related crop and income losses which are intensified by a changing climate.

Workshop participants also began to address the role of prices in achieving living wages. Francesca Brkic, from The Body Shop, presented their approach on living income with shea nut gatherers in Ghana. Aid Environment presented price setting approaches of a few pioneering cocoa companies, including some which are de-linked from the world market price (e.g., Theo Chocolate).

Aid Environment and Sustainable Food Lab also presented for discussion a range of possible alternative mechanisms for improving farmer income, ranging from the more recognizable minimum price, premiums, and contract farming to mechanisms such as weather index insurance and strategic buffer stock management which have only begun to be explored by this community – generating much food for thought.


Where Do We Go From Here?

So what does the Living Income mean for Rainforest Alliance, and where do we go from here? This question is central to our mission to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods.

We are dedicated to helping producers and communities improve their household incomes both through our certification system, advocacy work, and our conservation and development investments in priority countries (via Landscapes & Livelihoods), building on both local knowledge and the best available research, and adaptively managing as new lessons are learned.

Over the last three years, we have participated as a partner of the Living Income CoP, as it has grown from a small working group to a larger alliance of dedicated partners. As Rainforest Alliance Senior Advisor for Living Wage and Living Income initiatives, I currently serve on the Technical Committee, which supports ongoing research and addresses questions about research methodology.

2018 presents a new opportunity for Rainforest Alliance to communicate the direct connection between our work on the ground and living income results, and thus further contribute to the dialogue on living income. We are also committed to further imbed the concept in our programs, by leveraging actionable research to fuel innovation and push us further in our ongoing efforts to protect the rights and improve the livelihoods of producers, their families, and communities in geographies as diverse as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Cameroon, Indonesia, Guatemala and dozens more. This year promises to bring more progress, successes, and challenges. The growing cooperation among the private, public, and sectors together with producers and civil society on the topic of living income gives reason to be optimistic of moving towards a world in which people earn enough to achieve a decent standard of living.

[i] Otherwise known as the Anker Methodology is the methodology used by the Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC) to set living wage benchmarks for workers. Rainforest Alliance is a founding member of the GLWC.

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