Sweet Rewards of Fair Trade Sugar

Guest post from Sarah Minarik, Business Development Manager

03/19/2013 - 3:58 PM

This guest blog post comes to us from Sarah Minarik, Business Development Manager at Fair Trade USA. Sarah works hard every day to create business opportunities that transform the lives of farmers and farm workers around the world. Read on to learn more about her visit with sugar cane farmers near San Ramón in Costa Rica.

Let’s take a few seconds to envision one aspect of an ideal world - a world where both the farmer that grows our food and the consumer who eats it are happy and healthy as a result of a thriving symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately for most, this ideal is often not met. Crops are regularly grown with pesticides and agro-chemicals creating an unsavory and unhealthy product and farming is hard work, with long hours and pay that barely allows farming families to subsist. The good news is Fair Trade aims to change that reality. One thing that became clear during our recent visit to Costa Rica is that Fair Trade, through its rigorous standards, is supporting healthy, happy and proud farming communities. 

COOPECANERA (Cooperativa Cañera de San Ramón), a sugar cooperative in the rolling hills outside of San Ramón, is just one example of how farmers thrive when they are part of a Fair Trade community.

COOPECANERA, a Fair Trade sugar cooperative, is nestled in the rolling hills outside of San Ramón, Costa Rica.

Meet Jesus Maria Vargas Alvarado. He is a sugar cane farmer. He is a father of 9. He is 72 and President of the Fair Trade Administrative Council. He is a happy man – despite the grimace.

Meet Jesus Maria Vargas Alvarado. He is a Fair Trade sugar cane farmer. He is a  father of 9. He is 72 and President of the Fair Trade Administrative  Council. He is a happy man – despite the grimace.

As we toured Jesus’s farm, we saw a lot of what you would expect – subsistence crops, animals, compost. The farm seemed to be flourishing, which begged the question – How is Fair Trade helping this well-established farmer? Well, it is important to understand that if my view is a snapshot, we are seeing the ‘AFTER Fair Trade’ photo, the result of how Fair Trade has impacted Jesus and his family. And, as Jesus pointed out, the differences may be subtle, but they run deep.

Jesus, a Fair Trade sugar cane farmer and his flourishing farm - meet his cow!

Before Fair Trade, economic stability, negotiating power and transportation of the cane were all hard to come by. Without a consistent buyer and minimum price, combined with the uncertainties of crop productivity from one season to the next, planning for the future was very hard. He also had to coordinate and pay for the transportation of the cane to the processing facility, which was costly.

Sugar cane from COOPECANERA, a Fair Trade sugar cooperative, nestled in the rolling hills outside of San Ramón, Costa Rica.

Fair Trade has changed that reality. Now, with a consistent buyer, minimum prices, free transportation of the cane provided by the cooperative, and Fair Trade premiums, Jesus says that Fair Trade has given him an opportunity to maintain a quality of life that allows him and his family to thrive. While much of the premiums go directly back to the farmers, the community has voted to use the premiums to contribute to community projects. These projects include maintenance and supplies for the local school and church as well as extensive training for all farmers around Fair Trade standards covering safe and sustainable farming practices.

Many farmers use Fair Trade funds to help them maintain the land without pesticides and fertilizers. One example is through vermiculture which uses works to breakdown compost and feed the soil. Jesus believes that worms are a farmers best friend.

As we finish our walk around the farm, Jesus stops for a moment. He adjusts his hat (which he always wanted to make sure looked good for the photo opp) and said:

“We are hard workers. We understand that the Fair Trade premiums are not a gift – we must earn them… and we understand that we are helping the world, and we are proud of that." - Jesus Maria Vargas Alvarado, age 72, President of the COOPECANERA Fair Trade Administrative Council

03/19/2013 - 3:58 PM
03/19/2013 - 2:22 PM