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Sugar is one of the most important world commodities, produced and consumed around the world. There are 135 million tonnes of sugar produced each year from millions of farms and plantations in 127 countries around the world. For many countries it is one of the most important sources of national income. For example, sugar accounts for 70% of Cuba’s exports and 40% of exports from Belize. However, for the millions of farmers and plantation labourers working to cultivate sugarcane, there are significant obstacles to earning a decent livelihood.
In the first instance, the international sugar market is characterized by low and volatile prices. While the price of sugar fluctuates constantly, there is a clear downward trend. Sugar prices have plummeted 76% in real terms between 1980 and 2000. Any change in international sugar supply or demand can cause a sharp jump in sugar prices. The change in demand that can be made by a single company altering their sugar supply can plunge the sugar industry into a long and deep crisis, as occurred in the early 1980s.
In addition to volatile low prices, farmers in developing countries must compete with wealthy, more powerful countries with greater financial resources to dedicate to sugar production and greater political power to subsidize and promote their sugar industries.
Fairtrade Standards for sugar growers ensure that: