Stand by Sugar Cane Farmers Failed by European Union
World leaders will publically commit to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals later this year, in a bid to reduce global poverty. Yet Sugar Crash, a new report published by the Fairtrade Foundation, says that a reform of the EU sugar market is putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers in developing countries at risk.
Following an EU decision to lift the cap on EU sugar beet production by 2017, small-scale sugar cane farmers in African, Caribbean and Pacific (APC) and Least Developed Countries (LDC) - including Jamaica, and some of the world's poorest countries such as Malawi - will struggle to compete with European sugar beet farmers, who receive subsidies from the EU. According to the Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) own research, the end of the beet sugar quota could push 200,000 people in developing countries into poverty by 2020.
The EU reform coincides with a sharp slump in the global sugar price, which has halved in three years. As a result, sugar cane farmers who are already being priced out of the EU market are also being priced out of alternative markets and risk losing their livelihoods much sooner than anticipated.
Although the EU has provided funding to support sugar cane farmers through the transition, it has not always been directed effectively and in many cases its benefit will not be felt in time (read the Evidence Paper on Implementation of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform in England here).
Fairtrade International is calling for a new approach that puts farmers first. “With this change to the EU quota, we’re seeing prices collapse, and retailers walking away from cane sugar, increasingly replacing it with beet sugar. This is a body blow for the sugar smallholders in developing countries who totally depend on European markets,” says Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive of Fairtrade International, “The EU needs to work collaboratively with businesses, policy makers, and most of all, the affected sugar farmers to find ways to secure these producers’ livelihoods in the future.”
Fairtrade certified sugar is currently produced by more than 62,000 small-scale sugar cane farmers in developing countries enabling them to increase their productivity, improve their businesses, and invest in a wide range of community projects such as educational grants, health clinics, and access to safe drinking water. The move by the EU jeopardizes the advances that these farmers and their organizations have made to date.
“Fairtrade goes beyond extra payments, it’s about creating new opportunities,” said Alexia Ludford, a 32 year-old sugar cane farmer from Jamaica, who was in the UK to launch Fairtrade International’s report. “The farmers benefit, the community benefits, kids benefits, everyone benefits.”
European shoppers can also play their part and stand by the sugar cane farmers that have been failed by politics – by choosing Fairtrade certified sugar or asking their supermarket to stock it.
"Sugar is the backbone of our economy and the source of our income,” said Paulette Richards, a sugar cane farmer and secretary of the Trelawney & St James Cane Growers Association in Jamaica, where about 8 percent of the population earn their living directly or indirectly from sugar cane. “If we hadn't the sugar industry... children would not be able to go to school effectively, shops would close, bakery would close, it would affect every individual."
Read the full report here.