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.

Asociación Flor de Caña, Ecuador
The first step in the process is to extract the cane juice using a mechanical extractor. The juice is collected in a bucket and the leftover stalk material is kept for feeding the fires of the heating vats. The juice is heated in a series of 3 vats for 4 hours at a temperature of 120-130C. No additives or chemicals are added during the process.
Gabriela Warrior Renaud

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. For example, in 2017, when the caps on beet sugar production in the EU were abolished, small-scale sugar cane farmers, especially in African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) / Least Developed Countries (LDC), faced the prospect of losing a major market for their sugar.

Beyond market fluctuations, frequent and extreme cyclones and floods followed by droughts have resulted in damaged crops and delayed harvests, ultimately impacting sugar cane farmers' income. For small farmers to adapt to a changing climate, the relationship between climate change and agriculture is key to understanding the social, economic, and ecological contexts in which Fairtrade small-scale sugar cane producers operate. The rise in weather changes is negatively impacting the future of agriculture as it leads to declining yields and, thus, to a reduction of already low incomes.

Luckily sugarcane is not just a source of sugar. It is also used in food and non-food manufacturing. Fairtrade is exploring expanding the market for producers beyond sugar, for sugar by-products for producing rum, cocktails, fragrances, and bioplastics. Tapping into this opportunity is expected to be a win-win situation to attract new buyers and increase impact at the origin.

Sugarcane is a 'model' climate change crop. It has an exceptional capacity to capture CO2 and convert it into biomass, is highly efficient in water and nutrient use, and adapts better to climate change. Ethanol and bagasse to produce electricity to be fed into the grid positively impact and increase sustainable renewable energy production. Future ideas are to meet biofuel mandates in producer countries with the relevant stakeholders and to use Fairtrade ethanol to make the industry greener and more sustainable.

The Fairtrade Standards are a tool for development for small-scale farmer organizations to become stronger as a business, enhance sustainable and environmentally resilient production, and improve the livelihoods of farmers and their communities. The FT standards and training provided by the FT Producer Networks also support farmers better to improve productivity and income, irrigation and drainage infrastructure, and diversify their crops, providing an extra line of defence against tropical storms and droughts.

Fairtrade International program funds generated through sales of FT sugar are invested into two main programs based on an assessment with producers, the PNs, and NFOs: The Better Labour Practices & Climate Resilient Cane Production program. The latter assessed the Carbon & Water footprint of key Fairtrade sugar supply chains (up to exports) at the origin. Both Fairtrade programs improve the sustainable livelihoods of small-scale sugar cane farmers and help foster partnerships between the Global South and North for the sales of Fairtrade sugar.

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

  • Unlike other Fairtrade products, there is no Fairtrade Minimum Price cane sugar because price-setting mechanisms are highly complex and often distorted. Farmers benefit from the price of the sugar. In many countries, farmer organisations benefit from revenue-sharing systems with the sugar mills and exporters that process their sugar cane into various types of 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. Farmer organisations 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 farmers can reduce their production costs, improve their income, and plan for a better future. This is just part of how Fairtrade supports farmers to take control of their 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.


Would you like to learn how many producer organizations are involved in Fairtrade Sugar? Or how many workers and farmers you can find per country? Visit our dedicated page with statistics on our Top 7 product dashboard

The information as part of the Fairtrade sugar map is based on sugar production indicator reports to monitor sugar cane production practices and performance. The map currently includes information about seven sugar origins. These annual production indicator reports were introduced in the Fairtrade cane sugar standards to enable producers to take measures to increase their competitiveness.

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