One more reason to kick the sugar habit

Sugar ‒ its pure white crystals shimmer. They seem harmless enough, but we all agree, too much can lead to cavities, diabetes and extra pounds.

Nevertheless, our collective sweet tooth craves it and global demand has never been higher. Need some inspiration to kick the habit? Read on.

In ways you may not imagine, sugar has devastating effects on children. Have you ever seen it growing? It’s a perennial grass that thrives in tropical climates, a cash crop, raised by many multinational companies in developing countries. Sugar cane grows straight and tall, year after year. In a sad irony, sugar is part of the reason why 58 million African children are exceptionally short.

What do short kids have to do with tall sugar cane? In a word, malnutrition. I invite you to come to the village of Wagona, in Eastern Uganda, to see the connection.

Humble, thatched roof, mud huts are scattered along a narrow path shadowed by towering stalks of sugar cane. When large companies moved in a decade ago, many villagers abandoned growing nutrient-dense traditional crops like sorghum, millet and cowpeas for sugar. Villagers exchanged food for cash. Robert Lubega, a FARM STEW agronomist in Uganda, reports, “Many families are lacking food to eat since all the land is used for growing sugar cane instead of growing food. Kids are attacked by nutritional diseases and the general families’ health is poor.” 

Over time, sugar cane’s value diminished by the sheer volume on the local market. “Cash crops” can leave families devastatingly poor! It’s a vicious cycle, and children suffer the worst of all. Short kids may not look malnourished.

But when is being short something serious? The answer is stunting, defined as a height-for-age that is well below average. It is the most devastating form of malnutrition because, unlike other forms of malnutrition, the effects of stunting are irreversible. The effects include impaired learning potential, poor academic success, ultimately reduced productivity, poor health and obesity. That’s why prevention is key and why FARM STEW focuses on families with a holistic message.

While this child's father was working he was left all day with a chunk of sugar cane to much on.
While this child's father was working he was left all day with a chunk of sugar cane to much on.

While in Uganda a few months back, one of the local FARM STEW trainers and I were walking through some sugar cane fields toward a village where we were making initial contact. Along the way, we found an inconsolable little boy sitting under a plastic tarp with a small, off-white object in his hand.

We learned his name, Joseph, and that his mother had died. While his father was working in the sugar cane fields, he was left all day with a chunk of sugar cane to munch on. He broke my heart.

Later, in prayer, he inspired me through this verse. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9 ).

Many children like Joseph are suffering from hunger, disease, and poverty. They don’t get what their young bodies need to grow in part because the available land is dedicated to sugar. I’m sure Joseph’s life is still hard, but a few weeks after this encounter, our FARM STEW Ugandan team was able to return to his village to train the locals to prepare nutrient-dense foods and grow organic gardens on the land around their huts. Inspired by Jesus, our lessons encourage locals to have compassion on the least of these, like Joseph.

The next time you want to buy a treat made with sugar, think of what you could do instead.   

Keep in your homes a self-denial box into which you can put the money saved by little acts of self-denial. Day by day gain a clearer understanding of the word of God, and improve every opportunity to impart the knowledge you have gained. Do not become weary in well-doing, for God is constantly imparting to you the great blessing of His Gift to the world.

Ellen G. White 9T131.1


Prayerfully consider supporting a ministry to kick the sugar habit. I can assure you that, in addition to the villagers we train, you will reap an abundant harvest.

Joy Kauffman, MPH, founder/executive director, FARM STEW International