/ ©: WWF-SPPO
Sugar has been the mainstay for Fiji’s economy for decades, and has impacted greatly on the main islands' natural land and seascape. The newly introduced Sustainable Sugar programme at WWF South Pacific aims to progressively work together with local stakeholders and relevant national entities to reduce the ecological footprint of cane production on coral reefs.

Sugar industry in Fiji

Sugarcane cultivation and production has been at the heart of Fiji’s political and socio-economic history for the past 125 year. However, it has been having a detrimental impact on rivers and coral reefs, in particular, the Qawa River in Labasa and the Great Sea Reef, the southern hemisphere's third longest barrier reef. Water pollution from chemicals used in cane growing, sedimentation through soil erosion, and waste from sugar production not only threaten the biodiversity of river systems and coastal areas but the cultures and livelihoods of communities that rely upon them.

Research into climate change impacts suggests that there will be more challenges for the Fijian sugar industry resulting from increases in the frequency and intensity floods, droughts and tropical cyclones. Cane farmers in Fiji are some of the poorest groups in the country and the situation has been worsening. In addition, increasing input costs for the sugar industry are not helping the socio-economic situation. 

Reducing our footprint on biodiversity

The programme is part of WWF South Pacific’s work on decreasing the human “footprint” or impact on biodiversity. Solutions are available, simple, and transformational: produce and buy more efficiently. Working towards Fair Trade certification and potentially Bonsucro certification will link the Fiji sugar industry to a global market for sustainable trade and investment. In effect, WWF will help reduce risk and uncertainty through a secure supply chain.

The Sugar programme will pilot its activities in cane farming areas in the Labasa District, near the WWF Qoliqoli Cokovata Project site in the Macuata Province, located on Fiji’s second largest island. WWF has been active in the area since 2005 in its effort to establish and strengthen community driven management of a network of marine protected areas along the Great Sea Reef, the southern hemisphere’s third longest barrier reef, and globally significant for its biodiversity.

Changing practices

In order make the industry more sustainable, the  Sustainable Sugar programme is working to determine which best practice techniques gauged from comparable countries such as Australia may be transferrable and applicable to the sugar industry in Fiji, benefiting local communities, the industry and nature. Sustainable innovations the project is advocating for to be applied by local cane farmers include cutting edge practices in the sugar industry, such as water quality improvements and soil health.

This programme will complement WWF’s existing conservation efforts in the area by actively working with the area's cane growers in improving resource use efficiency and stemming land based degradation such as sedimentation, which impacts the outlying marine areas of the Great Sea Reef. Additionally the programme will work in tandem with Labasa Sugar Mill to minimise its outflow of waste into the Qawa River that drains directly into and negatively impacts the marine area that WWF is actively trying to conserve.

 / ©: Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
Sugar farmer in Waiqeli sector, a supplier of Labasa Mill, during survey of issues relating to fairtrade certification.
© Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
 / ©: Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
Leaving cane offcuts on the fields rather than burning helps reduce soil erosion.
© Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
 / ©: Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
Rivers carry sediment from farms onto coral reefs, smothering out the sunlight that coral needs for energy.
© Ryan Collins / WWF-SPPO
 / ©: Glen Wilson
Labasa Cane Producers Association became Fiji's first Fairtrade certified producer, ensuring sugar production conforms to a number of social and environment standards
© Glen Wilson
  • Sugar Facts

    Nationally, FJD 12m is lost in sugar sales annually due to soil loss

    FJD 24m was lost due to the January 2009 floods

    Rural poverty has increased from 40% (2003) to 43% (2009)