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Sugarcane

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Turning a new leaf

Against a background of falling sugar prices and increasing Bonsucro certification, Solidaridad, IFC and four milling companies in I ndia have joined forces in the largest project for small-scale sugar-cane growers worldwide. This project supported more than 110,000 growers, while reducing water used for irrigation and increasing financial literacy. Major brands and regional governments are now keen to get involved.

Programme setting

The global price of sugar continued to decline in 2013 due to surplus production and the competitiveness of ethanol coming under pressure in Brazil. This presents financial challenges to millers and growers, discouraging investments in long-term business viability and sustainability. At the same time, leading food and beverage companies are increasingly committed to verified sustainable sources, such as Bonsucrocertified sugar and alcohol. Solidaridad helps growers and millers respond to these market and sustainability challenges.

Results

The past year marked a transition for Solidaridad, with projects supported by the Schokland Fund coming to an end and those within the Farmer Support Programme starting up. Solidaridad reached out to more than 120,000 growers and workers worldwide, ranging from large-scale, well-established rain-fed growers in Brazil to first-generation irrigated cane growers in Swaziland, who are relatively new to growing cane.
A new feature is supporting improved labour conditions and reducing child labour in Mexico, in cooperation with the ILO-SIMAPRO programme. As in Bolivia, projects combine improving labour productivity and labour conditions, while reducing downtime due to accidents or labour unrest. In Brazil, 1,885 cane cutters were retrained to take up better jobs in mechanical harvesting or outside the industry. Bonsucro is now connected to networks throughout the Americas, Southern Africa and India. Solidaridad also contributed to reviewing the Bonsucro standard. Solidaridad continued to invest in multi-stakeholder platforms for disseminating learning and experience and promoting dialogue about sustainable production in India, South America and Southern Africa. A well-received positive international campaign entitled `How to change the world with sugar cane' is increasing awareness and creating engagement from stakeholders worldwide.

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Impact

The programme was reviewed as part of the Schokland Fund final evaluation. Case studies on sugar-cane projects in Belize and Malawi confirmed double-digit productivity increases and effective adoption of better agricultural practices. The evaluation stressed the importance of strengthening grower organisations and the critical role of mills.
Recommendations included better articulating the business case for investments in sustainable production and focusing more on addressing root causes, which may lie outside the supply chain. An IOB evaluation of Dutch foreign policy in Latin America concluded that, "thanks to the Solidaridad project with Argos Energies and UNICA, there is now enough Bonsucro- certified ethanol available to meet EU demand for the next few years". The project that helped achieve this ended in 2013.

Market partnerships

Solidaridad and Unilever entered into a formal partnership to work on the sustainability and certification of cane sugar production in Mexico and Central America. This was announced at a Solidaridad event in London entitled 'Let's turn a new leaf' and at the Bonsucro Summit in Mexico.

Challenges ahead

Food and beverage companies are increasingly approaching Solidaridad to work on sensitive and often highly polarised issues, such as labour and land rights. Improving the situation on such issues is novel and it requires relationships of trust. Solidaridad invests in building such relationships and in careful learning-by-doing on a pilot scale, always taking shared interests as the starting point for its programmes.

Market partners

Unilever, Argos Energies, Mondelez, SAB Miller, International Finance Corporation, Raízen, and many other mill groups and grower companies worldwide.

Donors

Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Farmer Support Programme), Global Sustainable Biomass Fund, Porticus