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Raising Cane

By Marie Oser, Managing Editor
December 2, 2008
File under: Business News, Green Practices, Sustainable Products


Organic farming and Fair Trade practices have obvious benefits for people and the planet. Consumers are guaranteed quality products grown with sustainable methods and assured that the producers are treated fairly.

How does it work? Traditionally, small farmers in developing countries barely eke out a living on a few acres of land. These impoverished growers are subject to declining world market prices, environmental degradation, and hazardous working conditions.

TransFair USA, a non-profit third party certifier, organizes farmers across Latin America, Asia, and Africa and connects them with major brands and retailers in the U.S. As a result, farmers receive up to 3 times the price for their products. And that is only the beginning. In addition to a fair price, buyers pay quarterly premiums. The premiums stay in the co-ops and are invested in clinics, schools, equipment, education, communication systems and water wells.

TransFair’s rigorous audit system tracks products from farm to finished product and verifies compliance with Fair Trade criteria. U.S. companies that meet strict Fair Trade standards are permitted to display the Fair Trade Certified label on their products.

Nigel Willerton was raised in England’s sugar trade. When he became Wholesome Sweeteners CEO in 2002 he was determined to improve conditions in the sugar business for people and for the planet. He believed that Wholesome could make a significant difference in the everyday lives and futures of cane farmers and their communities.

Inspired by the emerging Fair Trade movement, which until then had been primarily coffee and cocoa, Nigel began working to establish Fair Trade standards for sugar cane cooperatives and mills. After three years of negotiation and hard work, Wholesome Sweeteners launched the first line of Organic and Fair Trade Certified sugars and molasses in the U.S.
 Nigel was pleased to report, “Just months after the first agreement was signed, money began flowing back into the co-ops.”

Fair Trade agreements set trade prices, remove the unnecessary middlemen, who once took a significant percentage of farmers’ income, and provide access to pre-harvest lines of credit. Recently the distance to the mill challenged a cooperative partner in Paraguay, as they had no truck. Once cut, the cane is hurried to the mill, where it must be processed within 24 hours or the cane will begin to spoil.Wholesome made a pre-harvest loan to buy the trucks necessary to get the cane to the mill on time.

Consumer support of organic sugar products has had a significant impact on the way farmers grow their cane: Between 2001 and 2007, there was a 10-fold increase in land dedicated to organic cane cultivation in Paraguay alone, from 10,000 acres to nearly 100,000 acres. Wholesome Sweeteners’ Fair Trade programs help small sugar farmers earn more so they can pay for organic certification and training in sustainable agriculture techniques as well as converting land to organic cultivation. Paraguay and Costa Rica grow organic Fair Trade Certified sugar cane.

Vote with your purchases. Support Organic Fair Trade Certified Sugar


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