Fairtrade Stories


Sugar cane farming is a tradition in the Xaibe area of Northern Belize. Most of the families are involved in this crop, which is essential for the health of the local economy.

Many of the farming practices have been handed down from generation to generation. While this has helped sustain the community over many decades, as some farming practices have modernised with the changing world, others have lagged behind.

For people like Senor Williams, who farms 40 acres, the use of fetilisers and some pesticides have become essential practice. Without these valuable tools in a farmer's armoury, crops would be prone to fail as a result of harsh conditions and virulent pests.

“We used to leave the bags of fertilizer and pesticides out in the fields or around the outside of our houses. Everyone did this as we didn’t have the space to store anything.”

The danger of this common practice, particularly for young children, did not go unnoticed by the local farming association, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA). Using grants made possible by the sale of Fairtrade sugar, they funded the purchase of materials to create small scale warehouses across the community.

“Once we had all the construction materials we were able to build the warehouses ourselves. And then the BSCFA helped us with training on using these things safely; using masks, gloves and things like that. Most people didn’t use any protective equipment before.”

These steps help ensure safer living conditions for Senor William, his wife and six year old child, not to mention countless others across Xaibe.

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“I wish I could show you but thieves stole it yesterday.” said Principal Yesemi Tun, of the Ranchito Government School in Xaibe, Belize, when explaining the support received by grants made possible by the Fairtrade certified sugar.

Thieves had broken into the small cooking and dinning building, and stolen the microwave. It and a cooker had been bought with funds received from a grant from BCSA & Fairtrade.

“Some of the children live too far away to go home for lunch. So we feed them here.”

This isn’t the only way money generated by Fairtrade certified sugar has benefited the school. Other grants have helped construct gates and fencing around the school to keep the children safe. And audio visual equipment installed into the pre-school classroom to help use more modern educational aids.

“Safety is important. I have been Principal here for ten years and we have had threatening incidents”

The school has 204 children aged 5 – 14 and 11 teachers. It operates 9 – 12 and 1 – 3.30.

“We would like to replace the equipment in the kitchen with new cabinets, fridge and freezer. They are very old! We have good fundraising from the local parents. Our next event is a Halloween fair which is always popular among children and adults.”

These aren’t the only challenges faced by Principal Tun. The school has been struggling for space, with students crammed into spaces designed for half their numbers.

“Four of our classrooms are currently condemned and are unusable. So I have had to fit classes into the remaining spaces, including my office! We hope work will start on a replacement building in January.”

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Senor Timoteo has been farming sugar cane for 40 years. He has 18 acres of land in which he has in the past farmed with his two sons.

“”I mainly work by myself now. My sons are IT technicians. I helped them with their education. I bring in cane cutters during the harvest”.

The life of a cane farmer can be challenging. Weather plays a big part in the success of a harvest. And the success of a harvest plays a big part in the amount of money that farmers like Senor Timoteo can receive.

“My harvest will start in February. When I take the cane to the mill I will know the yield. Then I will know how much I will get.”

The year has already been difficult. At the time of writing, a tropical storm had appeared off the coast of Belize, bringing with it heavy rain.

“This rain is good. It has been very dry so far and that has been bad for the cane. It has not been growing as much as usual. It also means I’ve had to spend money on more fertilizer.”

Senor Timoteo is grateful for the support received through funds generated from the Fairtrade Premium. He took part in a project run by the Belize Cane Farmers Association to improve the profitability of part of his crop.

“They gave me the fertilizer, seed and machinery to re-plant 1 acre of my crop. It has massively improved the productivity. I now get almost three times the sugar from that same acre as I did before.”

Re-planting involves digging up the existing roots, cleaning up the field to promote growth and planting new sugar-cane seeds (which are actually cuttings). The cost of doing this can be out of reach for many cane farmers. Without this initiative they will typically keep re-growing the same cane for many years, even as productivity starts to decline.

“If there was more money available I would replant more of my land. Then maybe one day I could also expand. I have had a dream for a long time to keep pigs.”

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“The froghopper is very bad for the cane. They suck it dry so the leaves wither and the plant can’t grow.” So explains Senor Raul, the Chairman of the San Narciso district of Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. “Before the Ferti-Rastra we used to get regular infestations that would cause us very real problems.”

Cane farmers in Belize cannot afford a poor crop. Their livelihoods, and those of their families, depend on a successful harvest. Senor Raul heads a community organization of 140 farming families in his district. They were regularly finding problems with an insect called the froghopper, which would lay eggs in the soil and whose young would then become a serious problem to sugar cane.

“We got the idea for the Ferti-Rastra from some similar devices in Mexico and the USA. We designed this one ourselves, and we were able to get a grant from Fairtrade money to have it built.”

This unusual machine, simply put, is a type of plough. It is towed behind a tractor and is specially designed to serve three purposes. Firstly it turns over the soil. Secondly it cuts through the churned soil, exposing and destroying any froghopper eggs. And lastly it has a dispenser to spread fertisliser, saving time and improving the efficiency of an exercise usually done by hand.

“We share the machine out amongst the members without cost. All they have to do is get a tractor, which they have to rent.”

“I’ve been farming sugar cane for 25years and this is one of the best aids we’ve come up with to solve a major problem.”

“We appreciate the Fairtrade funds and we would like to see if we can have more. It helps the farmers and the community as a whole. It would be great if we could afford our own tractor one day.”

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