Mauritius: Small farmers join co-operative movement as sugar prices plunge
As many as 5,000 small-scale farmers have joined the fair-trade movement, receiving additional income of $60 per tonne above the normal price of $530 by producing 21,000 tonnes of sugar under the fair-trade label in 2013. (Image: FLO-CERT)
The change in the Mauritian sugar industry has had a drastic impact on the livelihood of as many as 17,000 small-scale sugarcane farmers who contribute about 28% of national sugar production.
To increase their income, approximately 5,000 small-scale farmers have joined the fair-trade movement. In 2013, they received additional income of $60 per tonne above the normal price of $530 by producing 21,000 tonnes of sugar under this label.
Under the certification by international firm FLO-CERT, the small-scale producers develop good agricultural practices, use the soil wisely, use less chemical products and follow an integrated management plan for pests and diseases to improve crops.
Sooradehoo Punchu, president of the Mauritius Fair-trade Federation Cooperative noted that the cooperative movement is extremely beneficial for small-scale farmers and they are encouraging all small farmers to join the movement
An Alliance of Sugar Cane Planters Association (ASPA) was launched by small and medium farmers to defend their rights. The ASPA’s leader, Trilock Ujoodha, noted that the problem faced by small and medium producers can be solved with a revision in cane revenue distribution.
To put matters in perspective, Mauritius used to supply sugar to the EU at a much higher price than was available on the global market and with the end of the Sugar Protocol in 2009, the island stopped receiving high sugar prices.
Cane plant was used to produce raw sugar in the past, now the island produces value-added refined and special sugars, electricity from bagasse and ethanol, and will soon produce bio-plastics.
However, small farmers like Jugessur Guirdharry, a farmer for the Union Park Cooperative Society, in southern Mauritius, have a difficult time making ends meet.
“We are paid for the amount of sugar produced from our canes, we get peanuts for the bagasse they use to produce electricity, and nothing at all for the electricity which they sell to the national grid, or for our molasses or for the ethanol,” he rues.
This, even as, with the production of bagasse, farmers like him prevent the import of about 250,000 tonnes of coal annually, they are being squeezed by high production cost amid escalating costs of inputs like fertilisers, herbicides, labour and transport.
According to the Mauritius Cane Industry Authority (MCIA), between 5,000 to 6,000 hectares of sugar plantations land have abandoned by smallholder farmers.
And, according to Sen Dabydoyal, a farmer and leader of the Médine Cooperative Society in eastern Mauritius, more will do so because of lack of manpower, high costs of inputs and an ageing population among the farmers with the youth staying away from agriculture.
The government centralised private sugar production factories to keep the industry alive. Additionally, of the original 17 factories, four flexi-factories still crush cane, produce special and refined sugars, molasses, ethanol and renewable energy from bagasse and soon they will produce bio-plastics as well.
Nowadays, around 400,000 tonnes of special and refined sugars are sold on markets in Europe from where they are sold directly to big EU firms.
Italy, Spain, Greece, United Kingdom and Belgium buy about 75% of the sugar produced in Mauritius, which is value-added, refined and special sugar, and the rest is sold to several clients in niche-markets in the US and China.
However, even as Mauritius has shown its resilience in the face of the end of the Sugar Protocol in 2009, the sugar industry will again face a big challenge in two years’ time with the end of the EU sugar quota system, which is slated for September 2017.
Source: Inter Press Service News Agency