21 September, 2015

Sugar cane was once called Swazi gold

Swaziland farmer
by Anna Galandzij, the Fairtrade Foundation

Interview with Dumisani Matsenjwa, Farmer and Secretary of Maphobeni Farmers Association.


On 25-27 September, world leaders will meet at a summit in New York where they’ll commit to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) to tackle poverty, inequality and climate change. If met, these goals could change our world by 2030.

At the same time, a reform of the EU sugar market, supported by the UK government, is destroying the trade for sugar cane exports to the EU for many countries, pushing hundreds of thousands of sugar cane farmers into poverty. Swazi sugar cane farmer Dumisani Matsenjwa tells us he’s uncertain what the future holds for him, his family and other farmers.

In the last year, Swaziland sold 39% of sugar cane to Europe. Have you heard about changes to trade policy that will significantly reduce the volume of exports from sugar cane producers?

I don’t know much about it. If the regulation proceeds, we are going to lose our income, and that means the end of sugar cane production for our Association.


How will the changes affect you and your family?

It will mean there is no future for me as a sugar cane farmer unless the Swazi government starts looking after us or the EU government changes the policy. Because we grow sugar cane only, we don’t grow anything else. If we go out of business, we won’t have money to buy food. We must start growing maize and vegetables.


And what stops you from growing crops other than sugar?

It’s the capital, the money to start growing different crop. It’s hard to get extra money, as banks are reluctant to lending farmers money. My life depends on growing sugar cane. If I have extra money, I can try to diversify or buy a track for myself and try something else, or be my own boss.


It seems sugar cane farming is very important for the community?

It is very important. Sugar cane was once called Swazi gold. But as time goes on and prices reduce, we don’t feel like we are holding gold. We feel uncertain, like in darkness, as we don’t know what the future holds for us.


How do you think the changes to the sugar trade policy will affect the general community? 

I think the effect will be tremendous. We think we may need to leave our families behind and go away and get a job somewhere else, perhaps in a mine, or we may even leave the country.


If you had an opportunity to send a message to European politicians about the importance of sugar cane to you and your family, and your community, what would it be?

I would ask them to feel for the poor Swazis, to feel for the poor Africans, and think about them. They must think what to do to keep the price stable and allow us to export sugar cane rather than making decisions that kill us. I think there is a fight between them and that fight affects us, poor innocent people. The people who have power should think about us, the poor guy.


And what is your message to people in the UK? 

The UK people could speak to their government to help us keep our trade or help us find different markets.


Maphobei received Fairtrade certification in 2013. Have you noticed any changes as a result of this?

Yes, Fairtrade has made a big difference, especially for our workers and on the ground. With the Fairtrade Premium, we bought more toilets, built store rooms and more houses. We also bought all the equipment we need to use in the fields and protective clothing – that means we are now working towards (Fairtrade) Standards.


In addition to financial benefits, has Fairtrade helped the farm in any other way? 

Yes, farmers received free training in environmental practices, first aid, premium usage and management, business management in the cane production, all provided by Ubombo, Fairtrade Africa, and the Swaziland Sugar Association. The courses were very helpful and now, I think, we need to learn about accounting and keeping files.

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