How to go beyond fair trade — The Three Tier Model

What is holding smallholders back

Smallholder farmers have a vital role in the global food system, and a tremendous potential. Yet they tend to struggle with a range of systemic problems that keep over a billion rural families in absolute poverty.

They tend to live siloed, without access to: 

The Fairtrade movement has been effective in increasing incomes for more developed smallholders, but hundreds of millions of farmers who were unable to meet their requirements have been left out. This is why we started Fairtrasa.

What we do for farmers

Through years of trial, error, learning and refinement, we have forged a unique, for profit business-and-development model. It has proven to be effective in starting virtuous cycles of growth, empowering marginalized small-scale farmers to gradually raise their standards to export level, obtain organic certifications, and eventually succeed on the global market without external support. 

To help farmers become independent as producers and exporters, we also train them in logistics and in building and operating their own infrastructure. Crucially, we support farmers in organizing themselves, which increases their efficiency and bargaining power. Many of the cooperatives that we work with today have been formed with Fairtrasa’s help, but now operate independently.

Our field offices support farmers with the following:

The Three Tier Farmer Development Model

One of the keys of our model’s success lies in recognizing a simple, but often overlooked truth: not all farmers are on the same level of development. We identified three basic tiers.


Subsistence farmers

We provide

training, pre-financing and logistical support

Farmers reach Tier 2 when they produce crops that meet export standards


Evolving farmers

We provide

training, pre-financing, logistical support and market access through our export channels

Farmers reach Tier 3 when in a position to export by themselves


Independent agro-entrepreneurs

We provide

direct market access through our import channels

“With your knowledge of agriculture and economy, you’ve helped us become better producers. We go out on the field with greater consciousness.

And since I’ve been working with you, I could always be sure that as long as my mangoes are good, they will never go to waste. Today, I have security as a farmer.”

Jesus Munoz Ayala


Over the years, most of our farmers have reached Tier 3. This year, we are once more focusing on identifying a new cohort of Tier 1 and Tier 2 farmers who need our support to grow.

How to go beyond fair trade — The Three Tier Model

(Copyright © Fairtrasa)

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