Jamaican sugar cane farmer

Fairtrade calls for a new approach that puts farmers first

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 today (23 February), says that a reform of the EU sugar market, supported by the UK government, is putting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers in developing countries at risk and could push 200,000 people into poverty over the next five years[1].

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 former British colonies such as 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[2]. Many of these countries have supplied Britain with sugar for generations, and have few other options for earning a living.

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. To make matters worse, the EU reform coincides with a sharp slump in the global sugar price, which has halved in three years[3]. 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.

"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 per cent of the population earn their living directly or indirectly from sugar cane[4]. “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."

Threatened too is the future of Fairtrade sugar, which has changed the lives of more than 62,000 small-scale sugar cane farmers in developing countries by 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. “Fairtrade goes beyond extra payments, it’s about creating new opportunities,” said Alexia Ludford, a 32 year-old sugar cane farmer from Jamaica, who is in the UK to launch Fairtrade’s report. “The farmers benefit, the community benefits, kids benefits, everyone benefits.”

Although the EU has provided funding to support sugar cane farmers through the transition, it has not always been directed effectively and according to the UK’s Department for Food and Rural Affairs, in many cases its benefit will not be felt in time[5].

Michael Gidney, Chief Executive at the Fairtrade Foundation, said: “We cannot stand by and watch as thousands of sugar cane farmers in developing countries, who have supplied the UK for generations - and in some cases, been encouraged with EU funds to grow more sugar – lose their livelihoods. This is not a levelling of the playing field, because European beet sugar farmers get a subsidy from the EU.

“We need a new approach that puts farmers first. We’re calling on the EU to bring together government, business and civil society, to find and fund solutions that will support sugar cane farmers to stay in the game, find new markets or diversify. Crucially, they must involve sugar farmers in the process – and as a quarter of the EU’s sugar imports from these countries comes to the UK, DFID must play a lead role.

“British shoppers can also play their part. We’re asking them to stand by the sugar cane farmers that have been failed by politics, by choosing Fairtrade sugar or asking their supermarket to stock it. There are people’s lives in our shopping baskets, and we don’t believe people would want to buy sugar that costs a penny or two less per bag, if they knew that the cost was hundreds of thousands of people being pushed into poverty.”

The Fairtrade Foundation’s Sugar Crash report marks the launch of Fairtrade Fortnight 2015. First held in 1995, this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight campaign turns the spotlight on the producers who grow some of our favourite everyday foods – including cocoa, sugar and tea – to show the difference that Fairtrade makes to their lives and why Fairtrade is urgently needed. Consumers are being urged to “choose products that change lives” and retailers and other businesses asked to “stock products that change lives”.

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Notes to Editors

The Fairtrade Foundation is an independent certification body which licenses the use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products which meet international Fairtrade standards. This independent consumer label appears on products to show that disadvantaged producers are getting a better deal from trade. Today, more than 1.5 million people – farmers and workers – across more than 74 developing countries benefit from the international Fairtrade system.

Over 5,000 products have been licensed to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark in the UK including coffee, tea, herbal teas, chocolate, cocoa, sugar, bananas, grapes, pineapples, mangoes, avocados, apples, pears, plums, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, satsumas, clementines, mandarins, lychees, dried fruit, juices, smoothies, biscuits, cakes & snacks, honey, jams & preserves, chutney, rice, quinoa, herbs & spices, seeds, nuts, wines, ales, rum, confectionery, muesli, cereal bars, ice-cream, flowers, sports balls, sugar body scrub and cotton products including clothing, homeware, cotton wool, olive oil, gold, silver and platinum.

Awareness of the FAIRTRADE Mark continues to be high in 2014, at a level of 78%. 

[1] Impact of EU Policy Reform on Developing Countries, LMC International & ODI for the Department for International Development, January 2012

[2] The Common Agricultural Policy allows the payment of the Single Farm Payment. In 2014, this was worth €251.39 per hectare. The yield per hectare of beet sugar is around 11 tonnes, so the subsidy equates to approximately €22.85 per tonne of sugar. In addition, some EU states are proposing additional Voluntary Coupled Support payments for sugar beet, with a total value approaching €200m.


[4] Jamaica Sugar Industry Authority

[5] Implementation of CAP reform in England, Evidence Paper, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, October 2013