Almost 40% of Belize’s exports are sugar. The country is heavily reliant on its ability to grow and trade sugar and provides employment for about 40-50,000 out of a population of 324,000. When it comes to poverty, this region of Belize is lower than the national average but recently the unemployment rate and the number of children not finishing secondary school has risen, up to 9% and 65% respectively.
The Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) operates in the northern region of the country in an area nicknamed the ‘sugar belt’. It was first established in 1960 and, after getting Fairtrade certified in 2008, now has over 5,000 sugar cane growers. Farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to earn a living wage from growing sugar cane due to a lack of investment in cane replanting, fertilisers and pest and weed control. On top of that, climate change is affecting crops and reducing the quantity and quality of harvests.
The Role of Fairtrade
Expenses for sugar cane are rising, climate change is having devastating effects in the Central American region and sugar prices are low, so growing sugar cane is becoming increasingly difficult to live off. That’s where Fairtrade help, however.
The Fairtrade premium received by the BSCFA since they became Fairtrade certified in 2008 has been approximately $3.5 million a year from the sale of sugar cane. This has been reinvested in improving sugar cane growth and production as well as improvements for the community.
In improving the sugar cane industry, funding from the Fairtrade premium has been used to:
- Hire 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 the 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 fertiliser use more accurately, resulting in increased productivity and reduced costs
- Implementing an integrate insecticide programme, which has reduced the use of chemical controls and increased the use of biological controls
- Buying and distributing fertiliser and herbicides (free of charge) to all cane farmers, to boost incomes following poor recent harvests
- Programmes to provide advice on safe use and storage of agrochemicals
- Introduction of a replanting programme aimed at doubling yields from existing land
The Fairtrade premium is also being invested in the community by:
- Student grants to enable children to continue their education
- Grants for school repairs and improvements
- Grant to churches, youth groups, women’s groups and a community library
- Funeral grants and grants for poor families, older people and disabled people for medical costs
- Road repairs and maintenance
- Installing a water-tank system