Unfair Trade Practices Undermine Belizean Cane Farmers' Livelihoods
By: Omar Silva
Belize City: Wednesday, 31st May 2023
The sugar industry in Belize plays a vital role in the lives of hardworking cane farmers and their families. However, recent developments surrounding Fairtrade premiums have raised concerns about the fairness of trade practices in the industry. The Belize Sugarcane Farmers Association (B.S.C.F.A.), a Fairtrade certified association, has been left without Fairtrade premiums for the past two years, while other associations have benefited. This unfair treatment has had a significant impact on the livelihoods of cane farmers and their communities.
Background on Fairtrade and its Importance:
Fairtrade International collaborates with farmers and laborers in developing countries, including Belize, to ensure they receive a fair income. Fairtrade certification provides cane farmers with an opportunity to sell their products at premium prices, benefiting from the additional income generated. These premiums are intended to support social, environmental, and economic programs, contributing to the sustainability of the industry.
Unjust Distribution of Fairtrade Premiums:
Of the four associations in northern Belize, only B.S.C.F.A. has been excluded from receiving Fairtrade premiums for the past two years. This exclusion has created financial hardships for B.S.C.F.A. and its members, leading to a decrease in yields and increased costs of inputs such as fertilizers. The impact on the farmers' livelihoods cannot be understated, as they struggle to maintain their operations and support their families.
Questionable Practices by Tate & Lyle Sugars:
Tate & Lyle Sugars, a UK-based company and buyer of Fairtrade eligible sugar, has been a key player in distributing premiums in Belize. However, their decision to selectively enter into agreements with associations raises concerns about the fairness and transparency of their practices. B.S.C.F.A. argues that the distribution of premiums should be based on production volume among the associations rather than being subjected to individual buyer preferences. This selective treatment is contrary to the principles of Fairtrade, which aim to ensure equitable benefits for all certified associations.
Government Intervention and Calls for Transparency:
Recognizing the urgent need to support the cane farmers, the Government of Belize has stepped in by providing financial assistance to B.S.C.F.A. for the purchase of fertilizers. Additionally, new regulations have been implemented to enforce transparency within the industry. These regulations require Belize Sugar Industries Limited (B.S.I.) to disclose their sales, buyers, and costs of Fairtrade sugar on a quarterly basis. The government's intervention and regulatory measures aim to rectify the unfair trade practices and ensure the sustainability of the industry.
The plight of Belizean cane farmers and the unfair trade practices they are currently facing deserve attention and support. Excluding B.S.C.F.A. from receiving Fairtrade premiums, despite meeting the required standards, undermines the principles of Fairtrade and leaves the farmers in a vulnerable position. It is crucial for all stakeholders, including buyers like Tate & Lyle Sugars, to engage in fair and transparent practices that benefit all certified associations. With the intervention of the Belizean government and calls for greater transparency, there is hope for a more equitable future for the hardworking cane farmers and their families in Belize.