SECO COVID-19 Relief Project supports the First Fairtrade Women Cooperative of India to build a sustainable agriculture system!


 In 2018, 50 small-scale women coffee farmers from Idukki district-a small high-range hamlet in the Western Ghats of Kerala came together to form the First Fairtrade Women Farmers’ co-operative in India, marking an important milestone in the history of Fairtrade in India. This is how the ‘Highrange Organic Women Fairtrade Farmers’ Association (HOWFFA)’ was formed- a Fairtrade Producer group formed exclusively for women by women.   Today its membership has soared from 50 to 99 and the total operational area is spread across 134.15 hectares where the women are engaged in multi-crop agriculture which includes coffee, spices, coconut, vegetables, and cocoa.  The association believes in improving the lives of farmers by training them in sustainable farming practices, equipping them for newer markets, and contributing to their health and family needs.

Pic: Glimpse of the Voting Session during the General Assembly

The first COVID-19 infection in India was confirmed in the State of Kerala in the Kottayam and Idukki districts where the farmers from HOWFFA are located. Even though the fatality percentage was low in Idukki, the district is highly reliant on farming and tourism which was affected severely during the lockdown. The farmers faced shortages in the supply of inputs and the sales of harvested crops were affected badly due to lack of exports and domestic markets. Several cash crops suffered heavy losses while a spike in the number of cases was recorded in the Agri-plantations.

Post the lockdown when the farmers, seasonal workers, and labourers started working on the fields, it was necessary to supply them with all the protective gear to prevent them from contracting or spreading the infection. At the same time, COVID-19 awareness sessions had to be conducted to make them aware of the preventive methods of COVID-19 and the importance of the usage of PPEs during farming activity. The farmers who faced economic instability due to export and domestic market challenges had to be provided with means to attain a reasonable income during the pandemic. One of the ways identified by HOWFFA was to help the farmers adapt to a sustainable agriculture system by increasing the productivity of the existing crops. This would require financial support to supply organic inputs such as humic acid, neem cake, etc that can drastically increase crop yields by providing high nutritional supports and prevent any crop diseases.

With the help of ‘COVID-19 Fairtrade Emergency Initiative’ funded by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland (SECO) and supported by Max Havelaar Switzerland and Fairtrade NAPP, HOWFFA was able to make provisions for distributing organic inputs and COVID-19 medical relief kits to its 99 women farmers.

On-ground distribution activity

Each of the members received 02-litre humic acid, 100 kgs of neem cake, 01 litre sanitizer, 04 cotton masks, 02 face shields, 02 washable gloves. The Project has overall benefitted 5000 indirect beneficiaries that include the farmer members and their families.


Pics: Sheena Susan Verghese, founder of HOWFFA ( extreme right) with the team for implementing the project on ground.

With the support from the Project, the farmer members of HOWFFA feel safe and protected whilst carrying on their daily farm-level activities with less risk of infection. The members have gained more awareness of the preventive methods of COVID-19 and the usage of PPE during farm activities. The supply of organic inputs has reduced their cost of cultivation and enhanced the productivity of nutritious vegetables and fruits for home consumption and for earning an additional source of income to look after their family. This has boosted their morale and confidence during tough times.

Sherly Vazhathoppu, a women farmer from HOWFFA mentions, – ‘’We have numerous challenges during COVID-19, even the coffee price is very low, and it is difficult for us to manage our daily needs. Every year we apply organic inputs to our coffee farms through the support of the Fairtrade Premium Project. In 2020 we were able to maintain our coffee cultivation through the Agri-inputs supplied by HOWFFA. Many conventional coffee farmers have quit coffee cultivation due to the decline in price, whereas we send our quality coffee to the cooperative. Post COVID-19 the support we received from the ‘SECO COVID-19 Fairtrade Relief and Resilience Fund’ has greatly helped us to maintain our coffee plantings.

We have received COVID-19 prevention kits through the support from the SECO Relief Project. We feel much safer when we need to travel to the city for our daily needs.”- Gracy Joseph (Mariyapuram, women farmer from HOWFFA)

The face shield is reusable and the gloves are washable which makes a lot of difference during the pandemic when the supply of medical essentials is falling short of in the market.  The application of Agri-inputs on the other hand has reduced our cost of cultivation.”- Linta Jomon, Mariyapuram, women farmer from HOWFFA