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