Sandy’s Garden ... Oh, Sugar

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

“Fairtrade sugar helps improve farmers’ harvests in Corozal,” read the label on the single-portion wrap of demerara sugar which I picked up in the café of a local garden centre recently.

“Fairtrade white sugar helps rebuild a school roof in Louisville,” read another. A third told me that, “Fairtrade sugar helps disabled children play in San Andres.” Intrigued by the selection to be found in a single bowl of sugar wraps, I read the message on a fourth. “Fairtrade sugar helps save crops from pests in San Narciso.” My next dip into the bowl of sugar wraps found a label which told me that, “Fairtrade sugar helps keep children safe in San Victor.” And a sixth wrap assured me that, “Fairtrade sugar helps keep families safe in Xaibe.” And, by courtesy of the internet, I now know that I was just one label short of a full set, the missing one of which bears the message, “Fairtrade sugar helps build classrooms in San Estevan.”

The only place name which I recognised was Louisville, which I know to be the largest city in Kentucky and … and I have to admit that I didn’t know this before … the 29th-most populous city in the United States. But I’d have been wrong to think that the Louisville referred to in the sugar wrap label was the city of Louisville Ky., the reference to sugar helping to rebuild a school roof being a clue. No, this Louisville is … and I quote Wikipedia … “a village in the Corozal District of the nation of Belize located at 18°19′N 88°30′W. According to the 2000 census, it had a population of 655 people mainly from Maya Mestizo ancestry.” Similarly, I learn from Wikipedia that Corozal is a town in Belize, capital of Corozal District; that San Andres is a village in the Corozal District; that San Narciso is another village in Corozal District, Belize, with a population of 2 422 at the last census; that a new highway linking San Narciso to San Victor in the Corozal District was opened in April 2015, San Victor being yet another small village in the Corozal District; that Sand Estevan is a village in Orange Walk District; and that Xaibe is small rural settlement in the country of Belize mainly consisting of people from the Yucatec Maya ethnicity.

There are more than 5 000 sugarcane farmers in the districts of Orange Walk and Corozal in Belize, all of whom sell their crops of sugarcane to Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI), the sole processor of sugar in Belize and the world’s largest supplier of Fairtrade sugar. In 2016, BSI produced 144 thousand tons of sugar, rather more than can readily be sold on the international market where supply exceeds demand, leading to prices as low as 13 cents a pound … say, 20p per kilo … so the UK supermarket price of about 65p per kilo on the shelf really does represent a bargain. And, since the sugarcane industry in Belize has begun to prepare for the loss of the guaranteed market agreement with the European Union, which expires later this year, it is possible that the price may fall even further, deepening Belize’s poverty. But, gentle reader, even the most determinedly self-sufficient and non-exploitative gardener should not think about dedicating an area of their garden to sugarcane production, for sugar is essentially a tropical plant. The plants need lots and lots of sunshine and a fair amount of rain during the growing season to encourage rapid cane growth. However, a dry period is essential if the canes are to ripen well, with sunny days followed by relatively cool … but totally frost-free … nights. These demands by the plant are met in parts of the world where summer temperatures of between 30°C and 35°C are the daily norm, followed by winter temperatures of between 12°C and 14°C, so it’s not going to like central Scotland. No, don’t grow your own; buy cheap Fairtrade sugar instead. And if exploiting the poor farmers of Belize doesn’t appeal to you, make a contribution to a relevant charity.