Posted in Kafevend Blog

We've visited sugar before on the Kafevend blog, from its less than salubrious past, to more recent times and issues faced by British farmers. Today, we're going to have a look at something that could seriously shake up the sugar industry for many, particularly those who rely on it for their livelihood.

The EU recently decided to move towards abolishing the sugar beet production quota by 2017. What this means is that European farmers who grow sugar beet will not be restricted in the amount that they can grow. This is good news for them as it will mean they can make more money from the crop, and from an ecological standpoint it is much better, as traditionally sugar cane has been transported to European factories for processing from abroad; with more grown in the EU, it will reduce food miles.

This is not good news for those people growing sugarcane, as opposed to sugar beet. Many people living in ACP (Africa, Carribean, Pacific) countries rely on it to earn a living. These people are often smallholders, tending to small parcels of land. The vagaries of world wide trade heavily affect them and they have few ways to adapt to a volatile market as it is also often the only crop they grow, whereas sugar beet is just one crop grown in a rotation in Europe.

In recent years, sugarcane farmers in these countries have been having an easier time of it thanks to initiatives put in place by the EU which have supported farmers growing the crop. More recently still, farmers in Jamaica, for example, have had further support from organisations like Fairtrade. Jamaican farmers saw a substantial increase in the money earnt by their crops over the last few years, but now they and hundreds of thousands of others are at risk of being reduced to poverty with the deregulation of the sugar trade in Europe.

The limit on beet production was first put in place so that there was a gap in the market for these sugarcane farmers to use. It seems odd that the EU has supported the growth of sugarcane in these countries only to now turn around and shoot themselves in the foot and undo the hard work of both the farmers and their own efforts. Whilst permitting European companies the freedom to participate in the market more easily seems fair, the fact that this decision has been influenced by lobbying will no doubt leave a bitter taste in the mouth for some opposed to such corporate influence, despite the positives for European trade.

It seems the best way forward for consumers who want to help out those who will be affected by these changes is to vote with their wallet. When you go shopping, keep an eye out for cane sugar and Fairtrade labels, and show your support by investing in these products. You could also approach stores and ask them to stock these items.

As unsettling as this news is for the hundreds of thousands that will be affected, the issue does seem to be glossing over a rather important elephant in the room. Over the last few years, sugar has been garnering a lot of negative press as it has come under increasing scrutiny in its impact on our lives. Should Europe and the ACP really be drawing up the lines of battle over increasing sugar production when sugar's detrimental effects on our health are becoming increasingly well known?

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