Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
SOME OF Jamaica's cane farmers stand to reap a windfall from environmentally and ethically sound cultivation practices, which could see them earning a premium of US$60,000 per tonne for up to 20,000 tonnes of the local sweetener. That's the amount Tate & Lyle has committed to purchase this crop year under the Fairtrade scheme and is in addition to the basic price it has contracted to pay for the cane.
Julia Clark, Fairtrade relationship manager with the London-based Tate & Lyle Sugars, explained that this is consistent with the international trade justice organisation's aim to help small producers in a wide variety of agricultural sectors all across the world. Fairtrade does this by first helping farmers to meet the standards and then creating demand for the ethically produced and environmentally sound commodities in countries interested in buying the produce.
The farmers then qualify to market their produce with the Fairtrade stamp of approval, the logo gaining global acceptance as a mark of produce cultivated under the highest environmental standards and ethically sound and humane working conditions. In Europe, there is huge demand, and Tate & Lyle has been working with farmers in Belize, Guyana and Fiji since 2008 to help them achieve Fairtrade certification. Now it is Jamaica's turn to cash in on what Clark describes as a win-win situation.
She told The Gleaner recently: "We're very proud that this year we've seen Worthy Park, Westmoreland, Hanover and Clarendon cane farmers' groups certified, so they now qualify to sell their sugar under the Fairtrade scheme."
MONEY GOES TO FARMERS
Clark, whose visit to Jamaica coincided with the annual general meeting of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers' Association (AIJCFA) held on November 29, fielded questions from farmers who wanted to learn more about the system. She explained that the money earned goes directly to farmers' group to spend on a development projects, as they see fit.
"They farm the cane in a way that is environmentally sound and respect basic human rights and good transparency, record keeping, and democratic decision-making. So they need to demonstrate that they are proper, honestly run organisations and Fairtrade will come in and audit them regularly to ensure they remain so," Clark explained.
Though they might seem stringent, the Fairtrade relationship manager thinks these are not demanding standards for well-run organisations in light of the opportunity they afford for earning extra money simply from good business practices.
Said Clark: "By so doing, they also create more sustainable farming practices, environmentally and ethically, but also economically, and they get a premium from the marketplace which comes back to them. That US$60,000 a tonne is on top of the market price that is negotiated for the sugar and doesn't go to the mill, doesn't go to the marketing organisation, but goes directly to the farmers' association."
Jamaica produced 132,000 tonnes of cane during the 2011-2012 crop at an average yield of 53 tonnes per hectare, well short of the minimum 80 tonnes per hectare Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke deems necessary to reap maximum benefits. The ministry is supporting a massive planting and replanting programme, which would see the total area under cane cultivation moving up to 20,000 hectares from 12,000.