This is especially true in developing countries, like India, a country where approximately 50 million people are dependent on income generated by sugar-related industries.
The impact is felt throughout the supply chain from farmers and labourers, to processors, traders, and retailers.
The Network of Asia and Pacific Producers (NAPP) currently has eight Fairtrade sugarcane producers in India supporting over 5,000 farmers. With the harvesting and processing finished in February this year, the sugar mill has paid the farmers between 20-25% of the total value against their supplies. Due to the lockdown, orders are either getting postponed or cancelled by the importers, and the factories are forced to delay payment to the farmers, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 70% of small and marginal farmers.
The lockdown is expected to have a further impact on the quality and productivity of sugarcane for the next season. Nearly 60% of the farmers in India grow ratoon crop and approximately 40% of them take up new planting every year. The farmers are finding it difficult to invest back into their farms because of the cash crunch and restrictions on movement. This has affected the growth of the crop, which will ultimately lead to a reduction in quality.
Farmers who also grow secondary crops (pulses, oil, seeds, vegetables, etc.) in the month of June as their supplementary source of income are left in an exceedingly difficult situation due to lack of money to buy seeds. There is also a concern that if the current sugar stocks are not picked up by the buyers after two months, the traders will have to look into the domestic market at a much lower price, which will severely impact the income of farmers and workers.
What is being done to help farmers weather the storm?
As the challenges for the agriculture sector continue to mount, the sugar small producer organisations (SPOs) in the state of Karnataka have stepped forward to support their farmers and workers to reduce hardship during this challenging time.
Sugar SPOs from Karnataka have already initiated a ‘Fairtrade Premium Plan of Action’ to support their farmer members. 60% of the implementation has already been completed, with 40% still ongoing. They have also begun to distribute protection kits containing disinfectant, hand wash, soap, antiseptic liquid, and face masks.
Not only this, but Muniraju Kempayanapalya Shivanna, a Fairtrade Premium Planning Committee Leader and NAPP Board Member, has volunteered and signed up to be a ‘COVID19 Corona Warrior.’
The ‘COVID19 Corona Warrior Initiative’ is a collaboration between the Department of Information and Public Relations, the State Labour Department, and the Red Cross Society of India. The volunteers are trained to dissipate panic among the public, to extend non-medical help to the district administrative division in carrying out awareness campaigns, as well as monitoring social distancing, among other crucial roles.
She says, ‘In response to COVID-19, and after the Fairtrade International announcement on the increased flexibility on Fairtrade Premium use, the sugar SPOs from India conducted a board meeting accordingly and took the decision to provide medical relief to support its farmers and workers. They have distributed medical soaps, liquid hand wash, face masks, and floor disinfectants containing sodium hydrochloride, as per WHO guidelines. In addition, the SPOs in association with the local government and Government of India have also distributed groceries to the impoverished farmers and workers.’
The Plan of Action laid down by the SPOs speaks of an admirable model that also focusses on extending help to a wider community by supporting each other to cope with the difficult situation.