Thurles was once a centre for sugar production, so we can relate to the problems and successes faced by sugar producers in Africa. The Kasinthula Cane Growers (KCG) smallholders’ project is located in an inhospitable region in the south of Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Southern Africa. Long droughts occasionally result in famine and the twice-yearly rains frequently bring floods.
Most families eke out a living from the arid land or work on nearby sugar plantations. KCG was jointly set up in 1996 by a commercial sugar mill and the state-run Sugar Corporation with the objective of converting an area of largely uneconomic land to sugar cane production. KCG and its 282 members were liable for the debt as owners of the land. Through no fault of their own the co-operative had serious financial difficulties. Proceeds from the first harvest didn’t even cover interest repayments let alone reduce the capital amount.
But the future is looking much brighter. KCG was Fairtrade certified in 2002 and is now supplying sugar on Fairtrade terms to a growing number of companies in the UK, Europe and the US.
What difference is Fairtrade making? The additional income earned from the Fairtrade premium is ring-fenced for much-needed community development projects. Members agreed that the first priority was to provide clean water to three villages that had to draw water from the Shire River, risking water-borne diseases and attack from crocodiles. KCG is also looking forward to building a secondary school and health clinic.
Cane grower Exford Dimo welcomes the partnership with Fairtrade: ‘It is so exciting because I understand that the aim of Fairtrade is to help us improve conditions in our community. There is so much we need to do.’
Having invested hope and a huge amount of hard work, the farmers have fought hard to get where they are today and it is clear they will stay the course. Given the chance, they will fulfil their ambition to work their way out of poverty. And their children will go to school and have better opportunities in the future.
KCG’s sugar is available in brown and white sugar packs and catering sticks, as well as in biscuits, cakes, drinking chocolate, sweets and even spiced drinks such as mulled wine. The first priority for the farmers was the provision of safe, clean water to the three villages still dependent on the crocodile-infested Shire River. Apart from the obvious danger of collecting water there, many people become ill after drinking it. Access to clean water is literally a lifesaver here.
The extra income from Fairtrade sales has allowed virtually all members to build new houses. Small mud huts with flimsy thatch roofs have been replaced by larger, sturdy houses with brick walls and tin roofs.
Malawi suffered a severe drought in 2005, with the Lower Shire valley particularly badly affected. The drought caused crops to fail so the premium was used to make two cash payments, five months apart, to each farmer for the purchase of food. In 2006 a donation for the purchase of anti-bilharzia drugs was made to the Kasinthula Bilharzia Clinic after the government repeatedly failed to provide them.
So be assured that when you buy Fairtrade sugar you are helping to improve the lives of smallholders in Africa who depend on the crop for their livelihoods.