by Alexia Ludford, Jamaican sugar cane producer
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to Jamaica got off to an awkward start today amidst calls for fair trade policies seemingly falling on deaf ears at Downing Street. Fairtrade sugar farmer, Alexia Ludford, reflects on the challenges still facing the sugar cane industry in Jamaica.
My family has been cultivating sugar cane long before 1950, and since childhood I’ve been reminded that my family history goes hand in hand with the trade.
Growing up, I thought of cane farming as ongoing “slave work”, because of all the back- breaking work during the twelve months of cultivation. Some of my earliest memories are of my father in his high-water boots and long sleeved shirts, machete and bucket in hand, leaving the house to work in the scorching sun. Him slaving away in the cane fields meant he was mostly absent, and the measly amount of money he would get for twelve months of hard work just made it all the more heartbreaking for me.
Farming was therefore always a definite “no” for me as far as career ambitions were concerned. I had my heart set on nursing, but right before completing the application to nursing school I was introduced to Fairtrade.
The day that changed my life
In 2011 my father asked me to tag along with him to “a very important meeting” that would change my life forever. The company went straight into the benefits of selling sugar cane under Fairtrade terms. The wheels in my head started turning, and decided then and there to become a sugar cane farmer.
Over the next four months I became an active part of having the Worthy Park Cane Farmers Association Fairtrade Certified. This meant also having hundreds of small cane farmers across three parish boundaries, able to reap the rewards of selling under Fairtrade terms. Three months later I became a registered cane farmer with one acre, projected to yield an approximate 30 tons of cane annually.
Now you may be wondering how we got all this done so fast.
The drive that kept us going was the hope that everything would change once we were Fairtrade Certified, that farmers would be able to receive the payments they deserved, that farmers would have the opportunity to receive and use Premium to develop their communities, the hope that farmers would have a reason to become united and work together to achieve something that has never been done before.
This hope kept us all together and kept us focused, kept us smiling. It kept us united.
New beginnings for our farming community
We became Fairtrade Certified in December 2012 and other associations in Jamaica were also receiving their Certification which meant that farmers across the island would benefit from Fairtrade.
We implemented many projects each of which had a core objective to decrease the cost of production for farmers. The plans were approved by the farmers themselves and they take great pride in letting the world know that after decades of being paid unfairly, they get to decide how best they could be helped in cane production.
Two successful operational years later here I can confidently say that Fairtrade has changed the lives of my family. My father and I are among many farmers who have received free training on Cane Production Best Practices, and as a result we now work smarter and not harder, and this means more quality time with my children and family. To top it off I have met the most amazing man as a direct result of Fairtrade, in essence I found love through Fairtrade.
Trade that is fair, not trade for trade’s sake
But now as a result of EU reforms to lift beet sugar caps in 2017, much of what we have achieved through Fairtrade will be lost and we are likely to be pushed back into poverty.
I also want to thank the UK government and the EU for their financial support through programmess aimed at helping farmers in Jamaica. The Sugar Transformation Unit in Jamaica have been implementing projects to aid this. However, additional support is needed. I believe the Department of International Development could lead this initiative to see businesses, government and civil society working together to fund and review and implement programmess that provide needed support. I do not believe that farmers like myself need a hand out, I see more of an investment needed, as we can use this to continue on the path we have come so far on.
Being part of the Fairtrade Fortnight as well as the Show Your Hand Campaign, has me grateful for the opportunities to ask our supporters to continue in their commitment to buy Fairtrade. I will continue to be hopeful, but unfortunately not all farmers will be as hopeful in another year when the cost of production has us struggling to provide for our families.