Paraguayan Pride: Farmers Open World's First Fairtrade Organic Sugar Mill
Fairtrade sugar farmers from the remote Manduvira Cooperative in western Paraguay are celebrating an extraordinary achievement – the ribbon-cutting of the world’s first producer-owned Fairtrade organic sugar mill.
Manduvira’s new mill will be a boon for the 1,750 member-strong farmers’ organization, which will no longer have to pay to rental and transport costs to another mill, 100 km away along dirt roads. This $15 million project was funded through a combination of national and international loans, contributions from the Fairtrade Premium, and the Fairtrade Access Fund.
“This is what we want to see - producers who think big,” said Gustavo Leite, Paraguay’s Minister of Industry and Trade, as he congratulated the producers and cooperative leaders.
Paraguay’s Vice President, John Eudes Afara Maciel, joined Leite and other government ministers and sugar farmers at the launch of the venture on April 24th. The mill has the capacity to process 200,000 MT of organic sugar cane a year – producing 20,000MT of sugar. This figure could potentially treble in the years to come. A profit of $1 million is predicted for the first year.
“Our dream of a sugar mill owned by a cooperative and not by private ‘empresarios’ has come true,” said Andres Gonzales Manduvira’s, General Manager, who was visibly delighted at the achievement of his colleagues.
The Manduvira Cooperative exports certified organic and Fairtrade sugar to almost 20 countries, including most of Europe, Canada, Latin America, New Zealand and South Korea. Fairtrade staff have worked with the producer group helping it to achieve organic certification and long-term relationships with international clients.
“Huge congratulations to Manduvira for taking greater control of the value chain and ensuring benefits remain in its community," said Monika Berresheim-Kleinke, Global Product Manager for Sugar at Fairtrade International, who attended the event alongside more than 2,000 others.
Martin Hill, Fairtrade’s Executive Commercial Officer, added: "We’re confident that Manduvira and its members will take on this exciting new responsibility and turn it into successful marketing and increased sales of Fairtrade sugar."
The mill has nearly 200 employees, including farmers’ sons and daughters, who previously had left the area to find work or attend school in the capital, Asuncion, but who have now returned.
“The cooperative creates new jobs. This new mill will give new opportunities for members and non-members, really the entire community,” said Teresa Alejandra Pereira, who serves as Executive Secretary of Manduvira and also helps her father manage their 3 hectare farm.
The farmers believe the quality of their sugar will also benefit from the new mill with the freshly cut cane arriving sooner for processing than in the past. Bagasse, a by-product of processing sugar, will generate energy for the mill and the cooperative is asking for permission to deliver power to the wider community and beyond.
Gonzalez told the attendees that, before Fairtrade, Manduvira’s members struggled with an unjust system. Fairtrade enabled them to negotiate with the mill 100km away to process their sugar. They then realized that to increases sales and have control over their own product they needed to invest in their own mill, one closer to their farms.
“Every community needs and can seek a better quality of life,” Gonzalez added. “Ours is a dream that has come true thanks to Fairtrade. We thank consumers, volunteers, people who work in shops, national initiatives … all the people who are part of Fairtrade.
"I say to our fellow smallholders in Paraguay and around the world not to stop fighting for their dreams. Anything is possible when you believe and when you work.”