Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), Corozal, Belize
Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) is located in the ‘sugar belt’ area of northern Belize.
In Belize, the sugar industry is an important source of foreign currency earnings and provider of employment – especially for the sugar belt, where poverty levels are below the national average but are still around 30 per cent of the population. It is estimated that between 40,000-50,000 people are reliant on sugar cane production for their income in a country of approximately 324,000. However, cane growing is a precarious occupation for most farmers because of adverse climatic conditions and insufficient investment in cane replanting, fertilizers and pest and weed control.
For smaller farmers, income from sugar is insufficient to meet household needs between harvests, so most farmers supplement their income by working in construction or the informal sector, or by selling vegetables and other produce grown on their farms.
In recent years, sugar cane farmers and their communities have been hit by rising costs for agricultural inputs such as fertilizer and fuel, as well as by natural disasters such as hurricanes. Unemployment levels have risen to around 9 percent in the sugar belt and, at 65 percent, fewer students are now completing secondary education because their families are finding it increasingly difficult to afford school fees, transport and meals.
Established in 1960, it now has a membership of more than 5,000 cane growers. All their cane is sold to the country’s only mill, operated by Belize Sugar Industries Ltd.
BSCFA was Fairtrade certified in 2008. As a direct result of certification, the association introduced new organizational and procedural changes that are helping it become a stronger organisation that can meet the challenges of lower EU prices and the need to be competitive in the increasingly liberalized global market. In a significant development, the association established its environment department, which has implemented a range of programs to address the environmental challenges affecting cane production.
THE IMPACT OF FAIRTRADE
Since 2008, BSCFA has received approximately $3.5m a year in Fairtrade Premiums for sales of Fairtrade cane sugar. The funding has been used in a range of ways – for example:
- Hiring 18 agricultural extension officers to work with the over 5,000 members of BSCFA
- The transformation of the harvesting and delivery process of sugar cane since 2010 has led to an increase in quality and yield from the crop. The price farmers receive increased as a result of a quality related payment agreed with the mill and has led to an increase in farmer incomes.
- Carrying out a comprehensive soil analysis project on all farms to map the nutritional needs of the different soils and target fertilizer use more accurately, resulting in increased productivity and reduced costs
- Implementing an integrated pesticide program, which has reduced the use of chemical controls and increased the use of biological controls
- Buying and distributing fertilizer and herbicides (free of charge) to all cane farmers, to boost incomes following recent poor harvests
- Programs to provide advice on safe use and storage of agrochemicals
- Introduction of a replanting program aimed at doubling yields from existing land.
The premium has also supported education and community welfare programs – for example:
- Student grants to enable children to continue their education ‘
- Grants for school repairs and improvements
- Grants to churches, youth groups, women’s groups and a community library
- Funeral grants and grants to poor families, older people and disabled people for medical costs
- Road repairs and maintenance
- Installing a water-tank system.
THE FACES OF BSCFA
Fairtrade is like a door to a great opportunity within our community. Investment in the range of projects in the technical support program is helping the cane farmers produce a higher quantity and quality of sugar cane with a positive impact on the incomes of producers. Through the social program, Fairtrade can help us promote education and build schools, health centres, clinics and much more. For us, Fairtrade has been a new beginning and also encourages a strong future in the sugar industry.ALFREDO ORTEGA, VICE CHAIRMAN OF THE MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE, BSCFA
ABOUT MANDUVIRÁ CO-OPERATIVE
The Manduvirá Co-operative in Paraguay has transformed from a group of sugar cane farmers struggling with unfair prices and unjust trading practices into the world’s leading producer and exporter of organic and Fairtrade certified sugar. The co-operative was founded as a savings & credit co-operative in 1975 by a group of teachers and agricultural workers to help its members access credit without the bureaucracy of bank loans and to work together to improve their community. As well as organic sugar, its 1,750 members produce organic sesame, cotton, fruit and vegetables.
Manduvirá Co-operative was Fairtrade certified in 1999. It exports almost all of its annual production of 4,000 tonnes of sugar to Fairtrade clients in 18 countries. For Manduvirá, an important element of Fairtrade is the option for advance payment of 60 per cent of sales contracts. This enables the co-operative to finance production and pay farmers without taking out expensive bank loans.
THE IMPACT OF FAIRTRADE
Fairtrade sales include a Fairtrade Premium of $80/tonne. Half is distributed equally among members to invest in farm improvements or home improvements such as indoor bathrooms. The remaining 50 per cent is spent on business and community projects, including:
- Providing a new health centre, including a medical team, dentist, optician and laboratory services – available to the whole community, and the only one in the region.
- Donating school uniforms and kits containing pencils, notebooks, rucksacks and other school materials. Educational courses for children in computers, languages, art, music, and dance.
- Running a savings and credit scheme.
- Agricultural support and training services.
- Purchase of a tractor and plough that members can hire for a third of the market rate.
Before the co-operative was Fairtrade certified, its members harvested their sugar cane then sold it to a local mill for processing. By 2004, they had gained the knowledge and skills to contract a mill to process the cane into sugar and export it directly themselves – a first for a co-operative in Paraguay. But high rental and transport costs to the mill, located 100km away, still made it a costly operation, using resources that could be better deployed in the community.
In December 2011, the co-operative laid the foundation stone for what was to become the world’s first producer-owned Fairtrade organic sugar mill, which opened for business on schedule in May 2014. At an opening ceremony attended by 2,000 – including Paraguay’s Vice President – the co-operative’s General Manager, Andrés González, announced: “Our dream of a sugar mill owned by a co-operative and not by private ‘empresarios’ has come true.
Now, rather than paying transportation and rental costs to another mill, the $15m mill funded by loans, Fairtrade Premium investment and the Fairtrade Access Fund, is bringing significant improvements to the lives of sugar cane farmers, workers and their communities.
Manduvirá and its mill are a perfect example of development through Fairtrade, enabling farmers to take greater control of the value chain, add more value to their final product, and ensure that benefits remain in the community where they belong. As well as processing more cane sugar, the mill will employ around 200 people and provide job opportunities for many sons and daughters of farmers who had left the area in search of work.
THE FACES OF MANDUVIRÁ CO-OPERATIVE
When we started, we didn’t have anything. Fairtrade helped us connect with the market. In Paraguay, people said ‘you are poor. You are crazy. You will never be able to sell or export your sugar directly or think about having your own sugar mill.’ Fairtrade said we couldANDRÉS GONZÁLEZ, GENERAL MANAGER, MANDUVIRÁ CO-OPERATIVE
My father was one of the first members of the Cooperative. Now we have our own production line for sugar. Before we only cultivated, now we are producers.Producer Carlos Arguero in his sugar cane field
The relationship with our international trading partners is very important for us. They promote the products of small cooperatives and thereby help us to get a better price for our work.Luis Darío Ruiz Díaz, Chairman of Manduvira