WALKING though the fields of a Waiqele sector farm, Shambu Lal the manager is impressed with the results of the Labasa Cane Producers Association's new push towards green sugar.
In a flurry of press, the association signed an agreement with WWF committing to collaborate towards the goal of growing more sustainable, eco-friendly sugar. The association was the first in Fiji to become Fairtrade certified: a hard-earned achievement other producers are still working toward that will see continuing improvement for farmers lives and the environment.
Back home in the UK and in North America, the Fairtrade symbol is a household brand, a big deal. At the other end of the spectrum from the producers, whole universities, towns, and cities are becoming Fairtrade certified, meaning all the produce possible: from sugar and bananas to cocoa and coffee are sourced from producers like the Labasa Cane Producers Association who give workers a fair wage and strive to work in harmony with the environment.
It's gratifying to see the extra money people spend back home translates to a premium here, which finances projects like the one I see now. Back on the Waiqele farm, WWF's sugar man Ryan Collins guides us through the plantation to where it meets the Wailevu River.
The river flows directly onto the Great Sea Reef, a globally important reef for its turtles, dolphins, sharks and rays and the third longest reef in the southern hemisphere. Protecting the biodiversity of the Great Sea Reef is the reason WWF are in Fiji, even though we seem to be the only people who know it exists.
Pollution from sugarcane farms can damage the reef; particles of loose soil can wash off farms smothering the kaleidoscopic of coral beneath, as can algal blooms caused by fertilisation runoff.
The good news is that solutions are simple and low-cost: for one terracing or contouring the gradient of the slope prevents topsoil getting lost, and soil-sampling to determine which blend of fertiliser is required not only saves money on their purchase but improves yields.
Trash-mulching' is another technique, where instead of burning the parts of the plants which remain after harvesting, they are used to line the fields, acting both as natural fertiliser and weed-controlling agent that prevents soil erosion.
Just watching the labourers on the farm harvesting cane is tiring, and once again we set off on our merry way.
* Kate Findlay is a staff member of WWF South Pacific Program's communications department. Email: email@example.com