by Jon Walker, Product Manager, Sugar, Fairtrade Foundation
In March, the Fairtrade Foundation started to campaign to raise awareness amongst politicians of the impact of European Common Agricultural Policy reform on small holder sugar cane farmers, their families and communities, who rely on exporting sugar to the Europe. Last year, the UK took around 26% of all sugar cane imports that came to the EU, so the issue is particularly relevant here. Currently, there is a quota that limits the production of European sugar, and the gap between supply and demand is filled by importing cane sugar that is grown in developing countries. According to a report for the Department of International Development (DFID), the reform - which will completely deregulate European sugar production in 2017 - could push 200,000 people in the global south into poverty.
This will not create a level playing field, because European sugar farmers receive a subsidy from the EU. Since that report was written, it has emerged that on top of existing subsidies for European sugar farmers, a number of European countries are piling on another €170 million of trade- distorting subsidies for European sugar farmers, in 2015 alone. The impact for sugar cane farmers in developing countries, who have relied on exports to the EU for generations, will be a bad situation made worse.
We are calling on the European Commission to mitigate the impact of this policy change, which will affect people in some of the poorest countries in the world, like Malawi which exports 30% of its sugar by volume to the EU, and countries where the UK set up sugar industries, sometimes as long as 300 years ago, such as Jamaica.
Just over six weeks since our campaign launched, Fairtrade supporters have sent over 75,000 emails to UK Members of the European Parliament, asking them to act on this issue. MEPs from across the political spectrum have answered their constituents call and are raising questions in the European Parliament. Linda McAvan MEP, chair of the Development Committee, has committed to raise the issue directly with the EU Development Commissioner, Neven Mimica.
If you have not yet emailed your MEP to raise this matter with them, it is not too late to do so. Every email counts and although we have already had a positive response from many MEPs, there are others that we still need to convince about the importance and urgency of this issue. Fairtrade knows that we cannot reverse the EU’s decision to reform the European sugar market, but we can try to ensure that the EU mitigates the impact for farmers and their communities. Please click here to email your MEP.
This is important, it is about people’s lives. People like me or you, who happen to live in another country with few of the social safety nets, such as health services or state benefits that we are fortunate enough to have access to in the UK when we fall on hard times.
Put yourself in the position of a farmer in rural Malawi, Jamaica or Belize. Let's say you farm sugar cane, which is exported to Europe. One day your income starts declining, the price of sugar has dropped already, and potentially the market for your cane disappears.
Some people have commented that these farmers should just grow something else. But switching to another crop takes time, money and, crucially, a buyer for your new crop. All things that are not easy to come by.
Highlighting the seriousness of the problem, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Sugar Group issued a press release last week, which explained that this change in trade policy will reduce export income, affect food security in some countries, and threaten the livelihoods of thousands of small holder sugar farmers. Many of these countries are not ready for this change in trade policy from the EU.
It is going to be a long battle to get the European Union to acknowledge the hardship this change in trade policy is going to create, and more importantly take the necessary action to mitigate the impact on farmers and their families. If you have supported the campaign already, thank you - you are making a difference. If you have just heard about this campaign, please do tell your MEP this matters to you.
To gain an insight into the life of a Fairtrade sugar cane farmer, read this Q&A with Alexia Ludford from the Fairtrade certified Worthy Park Cane Growers Association in Jamaica.