Sugar. You probably have some in your kitchen – after all, it’s a key ingredient in so many of the foods and drinks we enjoy. But it’s not all sweet: small-scale sugar cane farmers face intense pressure from large-scale producers, price swings and climate change.

12825 Sugarcanefarmer 870
Elian, a small-scale sugar cane producer, carries sugar cane from his family-owned fields at the Fairtrade COOPECAÑERA cooperative, Costa Rica
Image © James A. Rodríguez

About 175 million tonnes of sugar are produced each year. The majority of that comes from sugar cane, with sugar beets in second place. Fairtrade works with small-scale sugar cane farmers to improve their bargaining position as well as their businesses and communities.

Choosing Fairtrade sugar makes a difference

Sugar cane farmers grapple not only with price volatility, but also with competition from other sources. When the European Union decided to end caps on its own sugar beet production in 2017, small-scale sugar cane farmers around the world faced the prospect of losing a major market for their goods. Elsewhere, government subsidies to large-scale sugar producers in countries like Brazil, Mexico and Thailand further squeezed farmers in smaller states where governments cannot afford financial support to local production.

Beyond the markets, unpredictable droughts and heavy rains have hit sugar cane farmers hard. For farmers very invested in a single crop, adapting to the new norms of a changing climate is very challenging.

Fairtrade works with small-scale sugar cane farmers to expand their access to global markets and find new avenues for sales – including exploring biofuels and value-added goods like rum. As a result, the amount of sugar that farmers sell on Fairtrade terms has increased significantly in recent years.

Some of the revenues generated through Fairtrade have supported farmers to improve irrigation and drainage infrastructure as well as diversify their crops, providing an extra line of defence against tropical storms and droughts.

Here is more of what Fairtrade means to sugar cane farmers:

  • Unlike for other Fairtrade products, there is no Fairtrade Minimum Price for sugar cane, because price setting mechanisms in the sugar market are highly complex and often distorted. However, most farmer organizations benefit from revenue sharing systems with the sugar mills that process their sugar cane into brown and raw sugar.

  • Small-scale farmers benefit from a Fairtrade Premium of US$60 per tonne of sugar, and US$80 per tonne of organic sugar, sold on Fairtrade terms. This Premium is paid on top of the regular sales price. Producer organizations use this money to foster organizational, environmental and productivity progress, to make direct payments to their members, and to finance community projects.

  • As part of the Fairtrade approach, we provide guidance and support so that farmers can reduce their production costs, improve their income, and plan better for their future. This is just part of how Fairtrade empowers farmers to take more control of their own futures.

Taken in moderation, sugar can help us enjoy la dolce vita. When you stock up, opting for Fairtrade sugar can make a real difference in the livelihoods of tens of thousands of small-scale cane farmers.

Premiumuse 7765 425
Rice farmers used some Fairtrade Premium funds to make a sewing and craft centre for women, to supplement their income.
Image © Didier Gentilhomme

What is the Fairtrade premium?

The Fairtrade Premium is an extra sum of money paid on top of the selling price that farmers or workers invest in projects of their choice.

They decide together and democratically how to spend the Fairtrade Premium to reach their goals, such as improving their farming, businesses, or health and education in their community. Farmers and workers know best what their priorities and needs are.

Since 2014, Fairtrade farmers and workers have received well over half a billion euros in Fairtrade Premium.

This is a unique benefit enabled by your decision to buy Fairtrade products.

Looking for Fairtrade Products?

Fairtrade products are widely available. The blue countries and territories on the map below have Fairtrade organizations that promote Fairtrade products. Their websites often include a product finder to show you the full variety of Fairtrade products near you. Even if there isn't a Fairtrade organization where you live, Fairtrade products may still be available – look for our familiar marks on products!