Photos that are more than images – sugar cane communities in Nicaragua

27 March 2014

“One single picture can’t do everything, but they can be part of a bigger movement formed of activist groups, journalists and story tellers that want to make the world a better place.” –Ed Kashi

IMAGES: Ed Kashi

Enthusiastic, honest, idealistic… there are many words that would describe Ed Kashi. But one characteristic prevails above all, the courage of someone that has seen people suffer and still believe that things can be done in a different and better way.

Ed Kashi is a photojournalist, filmmaker and educator dedicated to documenting the social and political issues that define our times. He has received many awards for his work and his photos have been published and exhibited worldwide. Kashi is also the co-founder of Talking Eyes Media. The non-profit company has produced numerous short films and multimedia pieces that explore significant social issues.

In 2013 Kashi was contracted by La Isla Foundation, a Nicaraguan non-profit organization, to visit the country and photograph sugarcane workers and their families affected by Chronic Kidney Disease of Unknown Origin (CKDu). What he saw made a profound impact on him:

“During my time in Chichigalpa, there was a funeral for a sugarcane worker almost every day. The magnitude of the problem was incredible.”

La Isla

Prior to his trip to Nicaragua, Kashi was not aware of this disease or its consequences.

“I had not heard about the issue before. I had already done another assignment on sugarcane in Brazil. The industry there is highly mechanized and impressive. I was expecting something similar but it was totally different,” he continues, “I had already been in Nigeria and witnessed the desperately unfair impact of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, so I was acquainted with work-related suffering, but there was something about seeing these sugarcane workers getting sick that astonished me.”

According to the Panamerican Health Organisation, experts believe that thousands of Central Americans have died from the disease over the past 10 years, most of them in Nicaragua and El Salvador. CKDu is a serious health concern, and scientists are actively looking for its cause. The disease is associated with various factors, including environmental toxins and occupational risks (inadequate occupational health in conditions with high temperatures and insufficient water intake)[1].

During the two weeks Kashi spent on the ground, he visited the sick, their families and the community.

“Everyone was very welcoming” he says.

Kashi’s pictures offer an intimate perspective on those CKDu sufferers who “were resigned, accepting their fate” that goes beyond the typical portrayals. Behind each worker, there is a family, a widow that deserves to tell her/their story. That is also why, he says, there are no pictures taken at the sugarcane plantations.

“I didn’t think this would tell the real story behind the disease. I wanted to focus on the people that were victimized and this goes beyond the workers.”


He is now planning to go back and continue illustrating the deadly epidemic in Nicaragua.

“I don’t feel that my work there is done. I want to create more still images, series of portraits, and above all I want to introduce the voices of these people. I also want to make videos and a short film”.

Thanks to the donations of 213 individuals, Kashi has raised more than USD 19,000 to fund this project through the new crowd-funding platform IndieVoices. His objective in this second trip is to create media materials that can help advocate for a solution to CKDu. He further describes,

“I want to create images that are true, powerful, and compelling that can bring a greater impact on the issue and the solution. My work can help raise awareness of this growing health issue in an industry whose product is consumed by nearly everyone on earth – sugar.”

We truly hope that he can accomplish his dream.

Fairfood is also part of this movement of photojournalists, NGOs and scientists that want to improve the lives of sugarcane workers in Nicaragua and throughout Central America. We believe that if all relevant stakeholders come together and join efforts, we can improve the working conditions in the industry by addressing the CKDu epidemic and improving the lives of sugarcane workers, while protecting jobs and economic prosperity for the affected communities.

For more information on how you can get involved and help Nicaraguan sugarcane workers, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.