7 Nov 2017
Fiji sugar farmers adapt to survive
When Cyclone Winston drove a destructive path across the Pacific in February 2016, it was just the latest in a series of extreme weather events to hit Fiji. Winston left 44 people dead in its wake and is estimated to have caused more than US$1.4 billion worth of damage across the region. As so often before, farming communities bore the brunt of the devastation.
Like many low-lying small island developing states, Fiji is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and no one knows this better than the sugar cane producers who contribute between 12 and 15 percent of the country’s GDP. The islands are home to the three biggest Fairtrade small producer organizations in the Pacific region. Cyclones – together with the droughts, floods and sea level rise which are a regular occurrence here – are having a devastating impact on sugar farmers, their families and communities.
Even Fairtrade certified sugar producers – who are in a better position than most thanks to the extra money they get from the Fairtrade Premium – are struggling. "We’re seeing changing weather such as drought during the rainy season, and this affects the growth of the sugar cane," says Mohammed Rafiq, Chair of the Fairtrade certified Labasa Cane Producers Association. "Sugar cane yields are down, production is affected, and severe cyclones destroy the cane."
Mohammed’s fellow sugar planter Ronal Kuma, who manages the Fairtrade certified Rarawai and Penang Cane Producers Association, agrees. "We’ve had a drought now for more than six months," he says. "It started after the last cyclone, which destroyed everything. It will take four or five years to get back to previous levels of production."
The impacts of climate change on Fiji’s sugar producers are not hard to see. As well as the obvious destructive force of tropical storms, creeping impacts such as changing weather patterns, rising temperatures and loss of land to coastal and soil erosion are also a problem.
Ronal looks glumly at the dry cane fields. "The rain should have come by now. Rain always used to fall at this time, but not anymore."
Pravin Sawmy, Business Development Manager for Fairtrade Australia New Zealand, understands why farmers feel under threat, but points to the work which is already being done to try and tackle climate change. "The Fairtrade Premium has brought around US$12 million into Fiji already, and some of that money is being invested into projects which will help sugar cane growers become more resilient to climate change," says Pravin.
"For example, farmers are using some of the premium money to dig ditches and culverts so when there’s heavy rain, it is able to drain away more easily instead of flooding the fields. They are also learning how to protect the soil from evaporation so they are better prepared for droughts."
Intercropping – planting other crops like legumes, pulses and water melons in amongst the sugar cane – is another way the sugar farmers can make adapt to climate change.
"Intercropping means families have more food, and it also enriches the soil with nutrients – which has the added benefit of reducing the amount of fertiliser needed,” says Pravin. “Cane farmers in Fiji have very low incomes, and climate change directly impacts their incomes, leaving them vulnerable to shocks. Intercropping helps to protect against food insecurity."
Parbindra Singh is president of the Lautoka Cane Producers Association. He’s so concerned about climate change and its impacts on sugar production that he’s travelling more than 16,000 kilometres to the UN climate change talks in Bonn, Germany this November, to urge governments to take action.
"With the right support, farmers can become more resilient," says Parbindra. "Fairtrade farmers are better placed to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change. But we can’t do it by ourselves. It’s up to everyone in the supply chain – producers, traders, retailers and consumers – to reduce their carbon footprint and play their part."
Special Event at COP23 UN Climate Conference
“Climate fairness in global value chains”
On Friday, 10 November 2017, 11.30 am – 12.30 pm, join us at COP23 to learn more on how climate change is hitting sugar cultivation in Fiji, how farmers there are fighting back, and how Fairtrade is supporting them to adapt and build resilience. Take part in our quiz and hear sugar farmer Parbindra Singh share his first-hand experience.
- Darío Soto Abril, CEO Fairtrade International
- Will Valverde, Acting Producer Support Manager, Fairtrade Australia New Zealand
- Parbindra Singh, Chairman of the Fairtrade-certified Lautoka Cane Producers Association, Fiji
Talanoa Space, E.04 Pavilion Area, Bonn Zone, UN Climate Change Conference
(Please note: only people with official accreditation to the Bonn Zone of COP23 will be able to access the event.)