Blog: Fair Trade and the Alliance for Water Stewardship learning together for smallholder climate resilience in Malawi. images

Members of the Kaporo Smallholder Farmers' Association (KASFA) in Karonga have already benefited from training on sustainable water stewardship practices.

Blog: Fair Trade and the Alliance for Water Stewardship learning together for smallholder climate resilience in Malawi.

By Kate Studd, Water Witness International (WWI)

As I write this, Malawi is yet again suffering the effects of severe flooding across its southern region, with the lives of nearly one million people affected. This follows on from previous flood events in 2015 and 2013. The events are an extreme reminder of some of the water-related climate risks faced by the Malawian population, most of whom rely directly on agriculture for their food security and livelihoods. Water is the teeth of climate change - there is an urgent need for farmers to build resilience, and for water resources to be managed sustainably. Standards such as Fairtrade and the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) can provide valuable support, recognition and premiums to strengthen water security and climate resilience.  

A global standard for water stewardship 

Across the world, growing populations and economies, changing lifestyles and global climate change are putting increasing pressure on our water resources. Major water users, governments, cities and citizens all recognisthe urgent need to work together to ensure the sustainability of this vital resource on which we all depend.  

Water stewardship is an approach through which water users work together to identify and achieve common goals for sustainable water management and shared water security. AWS is a global membership collaboration – through which water users contribute to the sustainability of local water resources through their adoption and promotion of the International Water Stewardship Standard – that drives, recognises and rewards good water stewardship performance. Like Fairtrade, the AWS Standard is fully compliant with the stringent guidelines for standards system laid down by ISEAL, the global alliance for credible standard systems. 

The AWS Standard guides the implementers through a process to identify and act on the water risks, and opportunities that affect a site, and encourages action to tackle shared water challenges at a catchment level. Version 2 of the Standard is launched today - World Water Day 2019 (22 March) – and has been designed to deepen the business and development impacts it enables, including a stronger focus on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation.  

Water Stewardship in an African context 

To date, the AWS Standard has been implemented primarily by large scale private sector companies. There are many large companies present within Africa for whom the Standard is an extremely relevant way to manage their water risks. However, African supply chains are dominated by small-scale farmers, and, with over 0.5bn smallholder farmers globally, we want to ensure the Standard delivers benefits for these water users too. Over the last few years, Water Witness International has been working to test the AWS Standard with different water users across Africa - including small-scale farmers in globalised supply chains, a large hospital and a school. Our work is generating valuable evidence of the water and climate challenges in Malawi, and the transformative benefits that water stewardship can deliver for small-scale farmers and outgrowers. 

Learning from Fair Trade 

Fair Trade already plays an important role in building the resilience of smallholder farmers through supporting more productive practices, income diversification and strengthening co-operatives through which farmers can share resources and raise their voice. The Fairtrade Standards also require producer organisations to show good practice in water resource management during growing and processing stages. Many communities benefit from investment in local water and sanitation services through the Fairtrade Premium payments.  

Fair Trade cooperatives provide strong foundations from which AWS can help smallscale farmers work together to address their shared water challenges, and collectively enter into dialogue with other water users who share the same water resources.   

Innovating water stewardship for smallholder resilience in Malawi 

Funded by the Scottish Government’s Climate Justice Innovation Fund, Water Witness International Malawi is exploring how Fairtrade and AWS Standards can be implemented more closely to strengthen the climate resilience of small-scale producers and their surrounding communities.  

Through the project, we will support implementation of the AWS Standard by two Fairtrade-certified farmers’ cooperatives – the Sukambizi Association Trust - an organisation of small-scale tea producers located in the Mount Mulanje area of southern Malawi, and Phata Smallholder Sugarcane Outgrowers’ Cooperative Society in Chikwawa district. We are also continuing our support to the Kaporo Smallholder Farmers Association (KASFA) in Karonga, who have already started implementing the AWS Standard and are currently applying for membership of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO).  

The project will allow us to explore the overlaps and gaps between the Fairtrade and AWS Standards and identify any potential for alignment, auditing and training (i.e. interoperability) between the schemes. Lessons will be used to create specialised guidance and training materials for AWS for use with smallholders, for rollout across Africa.  

Doreen Chanje, Director of WWI Malawi and lead for AWS in Africa says, "This project is the first time that the Fairtrade and AWS Standard schemes have formally worked together. We anticipate some fruitful learning on both sides to strengthen the climate resilience of African smallholders farmers."

By Kate Studd, Chief Strategy Officer, Water Witness International.

For more information about the AWS Standard see