2 July, 2015

Navigating the stormy seas of sugar

by Gilbert Ramirez

Gilbert Ramirez, a Fairtrade sugar cane and coffee farmer from Coope Agri, reflects on the Sustainable Sugar Forum run by Business Innovations that took place earlier this month.

For a small sugar producer from Costa Rica, it was quite a challenge to leave my farm to be confronted by the metropolis that is London, riddled with modernity and novelty.  However Nature’s Wisdom and the warmth of my hosts enabled me to adapt, leaving me with a montage of images and lessons from the sugar sustainability forum which I will continue to keep, articulate and share.
It was fascinating to see how on 16 and 17 June, the seduction of sugar alone united us at the sugar forum. In this respectful, professional and mature setting, we reflected on how to strategically confront and navigate this stormy sea (low prices and high sugar costs, climate change, Common Agricultural Policy reform) in order to address the challenge of drawing a sustainable road map for the production, processing and trade of beet and cane sugar.
Using an innovative approach to showcase thoughts and ideas, the participants of the forum, led by a moderator, carried out an evaluation of the sector as seen from different perspectives of the sugar landscape, using the fundamental principles of sustainable agriculture. The focus was on innovation and human skills, as the driving principles for transparent and traceable development in the supply-chain.  There was also a focus on designing a sustainable model of agricultural production and that this model should be the rule rather than the exception.

Sustainability as a shared commitment

The audience engaged in discussing many global issues, including land-use, water management, climate change, strategic alliances, sustainability standards, value-chain transparency and traceability, and the daily tasks required by the Fairtrade model, ethical lenders and the sector’s organisations.

Each issue that we analysed led us to taking concrete steps towards where we could deepen the implementation of a sustainable model, responsible consumption and implement structures for a social economy. This will involve attempts to sensitise the traditional economy and create an audience which recognises and supports sustainable development as a universal practice and commitment.

How we measure productivity, biodiversity, and water and land efficiency was also a topic covered in detail. As a result, we inadvertently conceived an idea for a platform of conversation between governments, ethical lenders, businesses within that sector and civil society around the actions that were needed for ensuring that sustainability could be implemented in an agreeable way. Guaranteeing harmonious competition, will enable us to achieve prosperity and health on a level that is environmental, economic social and human.
Opportunities for small-scale sugar producers

The event opened a window for the small-scale sugar producers of Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the main objective had been to share experiences of their daily life in the field. I was blessed with the opportunity to participate and to express that we have always practised family farming where nature, humans and the community form a fundamental part of the equation.

Our farming methods, denominated as artisanal, require a daily balance between giving and receiving from nature. We do not think of production purely in monetary terms, because whilst in the short-term this would grant us a perfect balance-sheets and indiscriminate operations, in the long-term this would leave us with the ‘tears of humanity’. The key for our rural integration lies in forming cooperative alliances within the Fairtrade model and within long-term ethical relationships. This enables us to offer high-quality sugar which requires a minimum price to cover the cost, the backing of a continual customer-base will thus facilitate our positioning as a natural space in the market that is not disguised by  neither economic nor political subsidies.
Sharing my perspective

After having listened to and shared such formal proposals during those two days of interaction, my attention was drawn to how we must change our lifestyles, our production and consumption habits (no more wastage).  I took advantage of sharing these thoughts with the producers and the sugar sector, because I think that in order to mitigate it, we should all commit to a framework of sustainable, integrated practices which promise a wider vision of perseverance and tangible. All the more since agriculture has been part of human development for more than 8,000 years and there are still issues which we need to consider, evaluate and adjust in order to guarantee food security and human survival because inequality, the decline of soil fertility, the use of chemical products, water-scarcity, GMO, unemployment, migration and poverty continue to increase.
The end justifies the means

Finally, the event showed me that the world requires us to limit our strategy to one where ‘the end justifies the means’ before economic growth, unilateral decisions and legal standards by themselves cannot solve hunger, reduce poverty or save the environment. The World Bank has predicted that the universal economy will grow by 3% this year, and the International Labour Organisations estimates that over 200 million people will be unemployed.

This epidemic strips young people of all options and converts them into prisoners of our legacy. We cannot continue to repeat the same sin of disguising problems or burying the causes. We need to establish a management model with a new DNA that can ‘go viral’. It needs to be capable of standardising a strategy and a symbiotic leadership between countries, businesses and civil society that restores humanity and the earth and that guarantees a quality of life for everyone in the world.
Many thanks to the Fairtrade Foundation and the organisers of the Innovation Forum who have created an opportunity for small-scale sugar producers from Latin America and the Caribbean to share their daily lives.

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