Fairmiles Roundtable: banning airfreighted fresh produce puts millions of livelihoods at risk and does not help Net Zero

Over 200 stakeholders from 34 countries, representing fresh produce suppliers and retailers, academia, policy officers, and the international trade and development sector gathered at a Roundtable discussion on the 30th April in Brussels to debate whether airfreighted fresh produce should be banned in order to achieve Net Zero emissions targets.

The Roundtable was organised in response to recent airfreight bans introduced by several European retailers.

Moderated by Simone van Trier, attendees heard interventions from a range of speakers including Martijn Boelen, Head of Sector Trade at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships at the European Commission, Dr Ebenezer Laryea, Associate Professor in International Sustainable Development Law at the University of Northampton, Clement Tulezi, chair of the Kenyan National Horticulture Taskforce and CEO of Kenya Flower Council, James MacGregor, Development Economist and author of ‘Fair Miles: recharting the food miles map’ published by IIED and Oxfam,  Jeremy Knops, General Delegate at COLEAD,  and Steven Kerignard, Director Supply Chain LECOFRUIT in Madagascar.

During the Roundtable, James MacGregor and Dr Ebenezer Laryea revealed the results of the latest research by Fairmiles which suggests that at least 18 million livelihoods in developing countries are supported by airfreighted horticultural exports into Europe. This includes 1.25 million agricultural jobs and a further 2.4 million jobs in supply chains. The revenue and foreign exchange generated by this sector is needed to allow for domestic investments (including measures to reach Net Zero).

Additional points were heard including:

  • Farmers and vulnerable populations in in developing countries, despite being the least responsible for climate change, are already bearing the brunt of its consequences.
  • This raises the question as to whether it is fair to introduce a policy that will disproportionately affect the livelihoods of these same people, rather than looking at reducing CO2 emissions in other parts of the supply chain.
  • Transport of all food accounts for 1.56% of total global CO2e emissions. Of this, only 0.16% travels by air
  • The majority of airfreighted fresh produce is transported in the bellyhold of passenger planes. Without fresh-produce, these planes would still fly and bellyholds would be filled with other cargo.
  • In light of increasing restrictions, exporters in developing countries may be forced to investigate alternative markets to Europe who may be less demanding and potentially less lucrative for the livelihoods depending on it.

A poll conducted during this Roundtable found an overwhelming majority (96%) voted ‘no’ to the question of whether blanket bans on airfreighted fresh produce are a useful tool to achieve Europe’s climate ambitions.

Participants were also asked to contribute ideas for next steps. Some of the ideas that were put forward included:

  • More published research and data to better understand the key environmental, social and economic impacts so we can inform responsible decision making.
  • Science-Based Climate Justice Net Zero guidelines for policy makers and buyers – ensuring we can make a just transition and limit unintended consequences.
  • More dialogue and engagement with key stakeholders, including retailers, NGOs, consumers.

Jeremy Knops, General Delegate at COLEAD said “Agricultural export value chains are fundamental for low-income countries. Banning airfreight would have devastating consequences, leading to significant job losses and loss of income for some of the most vulnerable people in global supply chains”.

When speaking about measures being taken by the European Union to flight climate change, Martijn Boelen, Head of Sector Trade at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (INTPA) at the European Commission, said “What you do not hear is that we (the European Commission), forbid to forbid stuff. We make things more expensive, we make sure there is a level playing field…. but what we will not do, I’ve not seen any proposals ever, is to say ‘ok you cannot fly in fresh produce anymore’”.

Following the Roundtable, Fairmiles will continue to research and raise awareness of the impacts of airfreighted fresh produce, and engage more with key stakeholders to seek how a fair approach to Net Zero emissions can be achieved without unintended consequences on livelihoods.

Fairmiles speaks at world’s biggest fresh produce show

Fairmiles was invited to speak at Fruit Logistica in Berlin on February 8th 2024. Simon Derrick of Blue Skies was joined by Morag Webb from COLEAD and James MacGregor to present their case and answer questions during a panel discussion hosted by Fruitnet.

Below is the full transcript from the opening presentation:

“Global warming is not just a prediction, it is actually happening”. All around us we see evidence of this, extreme weather setting new records every year and rising temperatures that are exceeding the worst case scenarios. And we know that we cannot just sit back and let someone else solve the problem. We all have a responsibility to act, and we must do so now. Simply put, we must all strive to reduce our emissions as far as possible in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, which will inevitably affect every single one of us in this room and our future generations.

And because of this, we see that there is now, rightly so, a big drive to achieve Net Zero. Many businesses here at Fruit Logistica, including retailers, growers, manufacturers, distributors and logistics companies, have set Science Based Net Zero targets and are developing plans to achieve this. But, as we seek to accelerate our journeys to Net Zero, we need to be cautious of unintended consequences. Trying to do the right thing is rarely easy, and we often see examples of when what might seem to be the eco choice has negative impacts elsewhere.

For example, the drive to reduce plastic can increase demand for paper and therefore heighten risks of deforestation. Similarly, the move to biodegradable or compostable materials can contaminate recycling streams, and we have recently seen reports of how LNG gas, often seen as a cleaner fuel for shipping, can potentially cause more damage to our climate from methane emissions.

And then of course there is airfreight. We often hear that that flying food can create around 50 times more carbon emissions than shipping. We see these figures quoted so often these days, but how far is this actually representative of the reality? And is it really that that simple? If we add a bit more context we see that transport of food is only 1.56% of total global emissions, and of this just 0.16% is from airfreight. And then if we look at where a lot of airfreighted fresh produce is coming from – Africa – we can see that the whole continent contributes only 3% of global emissions. And then if we look at the social and economic impact, we see from research recently conducted by the University of Exeter, that airfreight supports at least 5 million livelihood’s in Africa, enabling inward investment, inclusive economic development and providing a vital way out of poverty for vulnerable communities.

And so if we take all this into account, does the statement that flying food is 50 times worse than shipping really tell the full story? And is it therefore morally right to stop airfreighting fresh produce?

Past campaigns have suggested it is not. In 2008 we saw airfreight under threat when the Soil Association put forward plans to ban airfreighted organics. In response we saw academics, NGOs and the UK government coming out to support airfreight, highlighting the positive impacts of supporting trade from developing countries. It was also the first time we saw the notion of Fairmiles introduced in a report from IEED and Oxfam, and one of the authors of that report, James MacGregor, is also here at Fruit Logistica today and will be joining me in a moment for the Q&A.

And so fast forward 18 years and Fairmiles is back – not to stop our progress towards Net Zero, but to ensure we go about it in a way that is fair and inclusive – not just looking after our own interests in the West, but looking after everyone’s interests – ensuring we meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Fundamentally, it’s about climate justice – and ensuring we are protecting and not penalising the most vulnerable communities in how we respond and adapt to climate change.

Today, Fairmiles is a growing consortium of organisations including fresh produce companies, development organisations and universities.
Our aim is to conduct further research on this topic, to raise awareness of the impacts that are not often talked about in the public domain, and to advocate Net Zero guidance that can help businesses take into account the full direct and indirect sustainability impacts, including climate justice implications for vulnerable communities, so that we can make responsible decisions in our efforts to decarbonise.

Don’t give up on African flower farmers this Valentines Day

A study conducted by Fairmiles and the University of Exeter has estimated that the livelihoods of at least five million people in Africa who benefit from the trade of airfreighted fresh produce to UK and European supermarkets are at risk by limiting flown food and flowers.

The research was presented during a stakeholder roundtable organised by the campaign group ‘Fairmiles’ to discuss how to take a fair approach to Net Zero without stopping vital market access for developing world producers.

Fairmiles is made up a of organisations representing fresh produce businesses, academia and the international development sector. Its aim is to establish a just and equitable strategy, consistent with the principles of Climate Justice to ensure we achieve Net Zero without stopping vital market access for developing world producers. Founding partners include ODI, University of Northampton, University of Exeter, COLEAD, Beanstalk.Global and Blue Skies.

The research highlighted that airfreight helps communities to thrive in global supply chains, enabling inward investment and inclusive economic development. It also revealed:

  • Very few emissions come from Africa, or air freighting fresh produce. Africa comprises of 18% of the world’s population but only 3% of emissions. Transport of food is 1.56% of total global emissions. Of this, just 0.16% of food travels by air.
  • Fresh produce is transported in commercial belly holds. Air freighted fresh produce on UK and European retailers’ shelves is enabled by UK and European travellers in commercial airlines. This provides capacity for air freight. Africa’s passenger traffic is expected to double by 2035. Increasing air freight can therefore help Africa to reduce the trade deficit.
  • Reducing airfreight won’t reduce flights. If we stop importing fresh fruit and vegetables from Africa it will have limited impact on flights that are driven by passenger numbers.
  • African imports far exceed exports. Africa has been a net importer of food for the last three decades. Nigeria imports ten times more than it exports. UK & European exports dominate trade.

Simon Derick, Head of Sustainability at the fruit manufacturer Blue Skies and a founding member of the Fairmiles consortium, said “it is clear that airfreighted fresh produce from developing countries provides a vital trade link that lifts millions of people out of poverty. Stopping this trade will do more harm than good, so it is in all our interests to achieve Net Zero in a way that protects and not penalises vulnerable communities”

Click here to download the full factsheet and summary of the research.

Fairmiles Stakeholder Roundtable seeks fair transition to net zero

Fairmiles held a stakeholder roundtable meeting in London on the 15th of December to engage organisations representing fresh produce businesses, academia and the international development sector to discuss and we can ensure there is a fair transition to net zero for developing country food producers.

The roundtable meeting was hosted by the University of Exeter and follows the COP28 climate conference in Dubai.

It is estimated that airfreighted fresh produce to European markets benefits over 1.5 million livelihoods in Africa. There are growing concerns however, that carbon reduction policies which seek to minimise ‘food miles’ or airfreighted produce will create a barrier to trade which will unfairly disadvantage farmers in developing countries.

Start at

Climate Justice initiative calls for Net Zero guidelines for airfreight to protect vital market access for developing world producers.

Fairmiles, an initiative supported by a consortium of organisations in industry and academia, is calling for science-based Net Zero guidelines which balance social and economic impacts with the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Fairmiles argues that in the absence of such guidelines, there is a significant risk that businesses adopt decarbonisation policies which overlook wider sustainability benefits and impacts, including Climate Justice implications for vulnerable communities within global supply chains.

While Fairmiles supports the drive to Net Zero emissions, the consortium makes the following points in relation to airfreight:

  • Airfreighted fresh produce from developing countries is low carbon and supports sustainable development. It provides vital access to global markets for producers, providing a route out of poverty for millions of people.
  • Airfreighted fresh produce from developing countries ensures consumers have access to high quality sun-ripened produce which is low-input, but with a very high social impact (in contrast, airfreighted exports from the UK are dominated by the salmon industry which has a comparatively lower social and economic impact)
  • Much of the air freighted fresh produce supplied from developing countries is transported in the belly-hold of existing scheduled passenger services from commercial airlines.
  • Targeting airfreighted fresh produce risks harming poor producers and workers in developing countries, who are themselves contributing very little to global Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
  • Ensuring that Net Zero policies align with Climate Justice principles is in accordance with accepted sustainability best-practices.

Fairmiles has been formed to support industry in ensuring a fair transition to net zero that does not marginalise vulnerable people in low- and middle-income countries. It follows past initiatives that have sought to raise awareness of the benefits of airfreight for developing countries. This includes a report published by IIED and Oxfam in 2009 which estimated how 1 to 1.5 million livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa depended directly and indirectly on UK-based supply chains.

The consortium aims to publish research to provide updated data on the impacts of airfreight and hold an industry roundtable on the 15th of December to discuss how to ensure a fair approach to Net Zero is followed.


Fairmiles has been formed in cooperation with Beanstalk.Global, Blue Skies, Air France-KLM Cargo, Beanstalk.Global, COLEAD, the University of Exeter, the University of Northampton and ODI. It is supported by a consortium of over 15 organisations representing African fresh produce businesses, the air cargo industry, academia and the international development sector.

For more information or to register for the roundtable event taking place on the 15th of December , please visit https://blueskies.com/global/fairmiles/ or contact simon.derrick@blueskies.com


New campaign launches calling for a fair transition to net zero for developing country food producers.

A new campaign for a fair transition towards net zero kicked-off this month.

Called Fairmiles, the campaign calls on policy makers from government and the private sector to consider sustainability impacts on developing countries when pursuing carbon reduction strategies which seek to minimise so-called ‘food miles’ or airfreighted produce.

The implementation of carbon reduction policies which target air-freighted fresh produce can disproportionately curtail opportunities for low-carbon agricultural products that support livelihoods in developing nations. This trade is a lifeline for millions of individuals in some of the world’s most impoverished and vulnerable communities, thus underscoring the need for carbon reduction policies to attain climate justice.

The kick-off was attended by 15 organisations representing African fresh produce businesses, the air cargo industry, academia and the international development sector.

The campaign aims to engage key stakeholders in the retail, government and charity sectors to highlight the importance of maintaining crucial trade links with developing countries and to make recommendations for reducing emissions without marginalising vulnerable communities.

Fairmiles has been formed in partnership between Blue Skies, Air France-KLM, the University of Northampton and Beanstalk.Global.

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