Yesterday, I shared photos of workers burning a sugar cane field to prepare it for harvest. Today, I’m sharing photos of the people we met who work in the sugar industry.
It seemed like everyone we met in Belize was affected by the sugar industry. The reach of a simple crop is absolutely pervasive in the country.
We spoke with land owners, farmers, association leaders, laborers, truck drivers, mill workers, and more. Some people had great-grandfathers who worked in the fields, who lived off of this industry for generations. Some men had worked for more than six decades in sugar fields, cutting cane by hand with a machete. We met teenagers—boys who had to leave school because either the fees were too high or they had to provide for children of their own.
Kendyl didn’t go to police anything, just to study the industry. One of the three associations in Belize just began using machines, which changes the system drastically. Machines mean less jobs, but progress in other areas, like technology. Because so much of the population depends on sugar for work, this will impact many, many lives.
The government, the associations, or the farmers themselves are going to have to start getting creative with jobs and diversifying. It’s not just jobs though; the price of sugar is plummeting, and quickly. A Fairtrade certification greatly increases the earning potential for these workers, but we simply aren’t paying as much as we used to. And most of the sugar coming out of Belize has the Fairtrade stamp of approval.
As a consumer, know that buying Fairtrade does mean you’re supporting a higher living wage for workers. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one we have. Also, look at these beautiful people in these photos. I can do my research and find out what companies buy Fairtrade sugar for their products. You can do that with Google, too. It’s easy. Here’s a freebie: Ben & Jerry’s is super responsible when it comes to this stuff. Go get yourself some Phish Food.