Bristol, how we can sweeten the Sugar Crash? by Roger James

As Bristol prepares to host the 2015 International Fairtrade Conference we have a big reason to celebrate! Why? –well in the 12 months to November 2014, more than 40 percent of sugar sold in the UK’s supermarkets was Fairtrade. This is a higher proportion than Fairtrade chocolate, coffee, tea or bananas.  Fairtrade sugar comes from 62,200 smallholder sugar cane farmers in 17 countries. Bristol has a significant shared history with those growers.

Bristol Merchants were prominent in the English slave trade in the first half of the 18th century. It quickly became home to a booming sugar import trade. Sugar houses began to develop in Bristol, see The Sweet History?  trail. As the trade in raw sugar from the Caribbean islands grew. A number of Bristol merchant families grew rich from the sugar trade and used their wealth to buy, build or extend large country houses and estates around Bristol.

Now the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of smallholder sugar farmers in the Caribbean Africa, and Pacific (ACP) and Least Developed Countries (LDC) are at risk because of proposed reform of the EU sugar market. Many of these farmers and their families have been supplying Britain with sugar for 50 years or more. Indeed, more than a quarter of the cane sugar imported into the EU from ACP and LDC countries comes to the UK. A European Union quota system capping EU beet sugar production, which enabled producers in developing countries to maintain their foothold in the European Union market, is set to end in 2017

The EU’s reforms coincide with a sharp slump in the global sugar price, which has halved in three years. Together, these two changes threaten disaster for small-scale farmers and their communities.

The Fairtrade foundation has launched its Sugar Crash report, and Video highlighting the potentially disastrous consequences of recent EU sugar reform for hundreds of thousands of small scale sugar cane farmers and their families

Fairtrade’s report examines the EU decision to abolish all sugar beet production quotas by 2017, in the context of three years of falling global sugar prices. Our report outlines that the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the Commission took the decision despite a strong vote by Members of the European Parliament to delay reform until 2020, and despite compelling evidence in a report commissioned by the UK’s own Department for International Development . The DFID report, The Impact of EU Sugar Policy Reform on Developing Countries found that by 2020, abolition of the EU sugar quota could increase the number of people in poverty worldwide by 200,000.

(c) Fairtrade Foundation

Politics and politicians have already failed these sugar cane growers. But that doesn’t mean that we as citizens or shoppers should. So, here’s what we can do:

This week, go out and choose Fairtrade sugar, widely available or if you can’t find it, ask your shop manager why they don’t stock it – make it easy by ordering our handy ‘Stock It’ postcards if you like.

Support the campaign calling on the EU (and the UK Government as a member) to convene a new initiative to support the ACP sugar producing countries and farming communities, including 62,200 Fairtrade cane growers, to adapt to the brave new world of low cost sugar. Campaigners can contact their European Member of Parliament to make sure that poor sugar cane farmers get the support and funds they need to protect their livelihoods.

“Sugar is the backbone of our economy and the source of our income,” says Jamaican sugar grower Alexia. “If we hadn’t the sugar industry… children would not be able to go to school, shops would close; it would affect every individual.” Bristol grew rich from this trade: 2015 is a vital time to stand by the growers who now need our support. Our international Fairtrade conference can help create a new legacy.

Roger James is a South West Fairtrade Campaigner. Follow him @scryfapen.