Around 80 per cent of the world’s sugar is derived from sugar cane, grown by millions of small-scale farmers and plantation workers in developing countries.
Sugar is one of the most valuable agricultural commodities. In 2012 its global export trade was worth $44bn, up from $10bn in 2000. For many countries, sugar is one of the most important sources of national income. For example, sugar accounts for 70 per cent of the value of Cuba’s exports and 40 per cent of exports from Belize.
For those who grow it, sugar can be a difficult crop to make a profitable living from. Inflexible supply chains mean that sugar cane farmers depend on sugar mills to buy their cane and process it into cane sugar with mills also deciding how much farmers are paid. Exporting cane sugar is particularly difficult for many African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries as markets in the EU and US are protected in favour of their own sugar beet growers and cane plantations. ACP sugar farmers have few options to diversify and depend almost entirely on cane sales for their incomes.
Fairtrade certification in sugar cane focuses on small-scale producers and there are currently 61,800 cane farmers participating in Fairtrade. The main economic provision of Fairtrade Standards in sugar is the Fairtrade Premium of $60 per tonne of sugar ($80 per tonne for certified organic sugar) in addition to the negotiated price. In Malawi, investment of the premium has improved food security for cane farmers while in Belize, investments in farming improvements have improved production by a remarkable 30%.