Sweet taste of justice

March 30, 2015 - Alistair Leadbetter, supplier support co-ordinator

Swaziland is a small, beautiful country that is also desperately poor and facing major challenges. Over two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line and life expectancy is the fifth lowest in the world at just over 50 years old. This is hugely influenced by the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. Over a quarter of the population are living with HIV/AIDS and this is the highest rate in the world.

It also faces some large environmental problems: overgrazing, soil depletion, drought and floods persist as problems for the future. More than a quarter of the population needed emergency food aid eight years ago because of drought. Agriculture is hugely important for the country. 70% of the population are involved in subsistence agriculture and the main export is sugar.

The sugar world is going to face some major upheavals in the next couple of years as the European and global trade regulations change and contracts are renegotiated. Sugar consumption is falling in Europe (it fell by 14% in the UK last year) and, coupled with the expected flood of Brazilian sugar to the market from 2017, then it doesn’t look too healthy for the Swazi sugar industry. This is a big problem for the Swazi economy because sugar production is one of the biggest employers in the country.

In preparation for the changes to the sugar regulations the EU has been spending millions (more than €120m) on modernising the Swazi sugar industry as well as parts of the infrastructure. Whether these changes are sufficient will be seen in time.

Since Swaziland faces so many challenges and the people will be threatened by the changes to the sugar rules, we have recently started buying our fair trade sugar from Swaziland. A number of farmer associations have recently become Fairtrade-certified and we are keen to support them with our purchases. You will find Swazi sugar in our 500g packs of white granulated sugar and in our wonderful new cookies and you will soon find it in our sugar sticks too.

There are currently about 30 farmer associations registered as Fairtrade and so there have been some benefits to the farming communities.  Some were planning on investing in health clinics and some were wanting to invest in their farms and their sugar infrastructure. 

Fair Trade is already making a big difference to Phillip Mthombo, the secretary of the Mavalela Farmers’ Association. He says: “Fair trade has changed us a lot, especially when it comes to our working environment and the health and safety of theworkers. They get safety clothes and are more motivated than ever. People want to come and work here because of the better standards from Fair Trade. We tell and discuss Fair Trade at our monthly meetings.”

The Fairtrade Foundation has published a report on the EU reforms and how they will affect farmers