When sugar farmers on the island of Mauritius were faced with a 36 per cent cut in sugar prices, they turned to fair trade. Keshoe Parsad Chattoo is one of the affected farmers. He says, “Our income was dwindling. So it was better to be fair trade certified to earn some more money.”
Fair trade is a social movement that promotes just conditions for farmers and workers and encourages sustainability in the developing world. Fair trade certified products command a higher price because they meet internationally agreed environmental, labour and developmental standards.
Many farmers and farmers’ groups in Mauritius are joining the fair trade movement, allowing them to receive a better price for their products. Consumers in the US and Europe willingly pay more for fair trade products such as sugar and fruits.
Kishan Fangooa is a farmer and secretary of the Long Mountain Pineapple and Allied Growers Cooperative Society Ltd. He says that the farmers in the co-operative “…are now producing and exporting good-quality food free of chemicals that trouble our health and our environment, and earning additional income.”
Becoming fair trade certified is a difficult process with many stipulations, but farmers like Fangooa feel it is worth the effort. He says, “The criteria may be constricting, but it helps improve the quality of our produce and we are determined to earn an increased income.”
Fair trade certification requires farmers to donate some of their proceeds to their local communities to support social or development projects.
But some farmers feel the process does not provide enough benefits. In the south of the island, members of the Southern Planters Association, or SPA, are reluctant to join the movement. SPA president Gassen Modely said the requirements cause more problems for farmers.
Mr. Modely is concerned about the amount of money that fair trade farmers must devote to community development projects, instead of supporting their own livelihoods. He says, “We thought the extra money obtained from fair trade would go into the pockets of small producers directly to help them manage the rising costs of production.”
The audit fees necessary to remain certified also present a barrier for farmers. Each co-operative society must pay a fee of between 1,000 and 3,500 dollars annually. These fees are very high for farmers, though they are currently subsidized by the government.
Inder Rajcoomarsingh is a member of the Sebastopol Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society. He agrees that the certification fees are too high for farmers to pay without government assistance. He explains, “Had we incurred the expenses ourselves, we would not have seen any profit in this concept.”
Business and Cooperatives Minister Jim Seetaram justifies the subsidy, saying the government wants small producers to have a choice between traditional farming and farming with fair trade policies.