Sugar

For sugarcane to be produced sustainably, its growers and cutters must work in safe conditions and receive a fair income. It also means limiting the impact of production on the environment. With so many potential uses – from food to fuel, and paper to plastics – many of us come into contact with sugarcane on a daily basis
Improving water efficiency and sugarcane farmers’ livelihoods in India Read featured story

196,931

farmers and workers trained to adopt good practices

476,032

hectares under sustainable management

74

factories, estates, and processors supported to adopt good practices

Challenges

Unsafe conditions and inefficient practices

Addressing social and environmental issues around sugarcane production and processing requires everyone along the value chain to act. Only then will sugarcane gain popular support to fulfill its promise as the crop of the future.

An estimated 15 million sugarcane cutters work to produce our food, fuels and paper. Cane cutters are often under-paid and have received little  education. Forced and child labor are common in this industry. Laborers, who manually cut stalks of sugarcane in the hot sun, work under conditions that endanger their health and safety.

Inefficient irrigation systems and poorly distributed water sources waste large amounts of valuable water. Pre-harvest burning to remove excess leaves, straw, and the tips of the stalks, cause air pollution in cane-growing areas. Farmers often lack best-practice knowledge, which results in inefficient fertilizer use and soil degradation.

There are an estimated 60 million small-scale sugar growers worldwide, mostly from Asia and to a lesser extent from Africa and Latin America. Too many growers suffer from low yields and high input costs, which leaves them with insufficient incomes and the inability to exit the poverty cycle.

Weather and climate play a key role in sugarcane productivity.  High temperatures and drought cause substantial loss as most small farmers’ systems are not resilient enough to deal with such extreme weather. A rise in crop failures will harm the already fragile livelihoods of these farmers.

Since the beginning, Solidaridad’s role in the Muda Cana programme was essential. It assists with digital solution technologies and learning, giving Orplana a significant competitive advantage within the agribusiness sugarcane supply chain.

Celso Albano de Carvalho, Executive Manager, Orplana, Brazil

Solutions

Fostering inclusive participation

Sector transformation requires inclusive participation. We bring people from all walks of life to the sugarcane value chain, connect them through dialogues, networks, programmes and platforms to create awareness, renewed passion and commitment around sustainable sugar cane.

Companies form a critical part of creating a sustainable sugarcane industry. They play a vital role in lifting laborers out of poverty and making sure labor rights and environmental well-being are pillars of the industry. We’ve partnered with over 75 mills to help them achieve Bonsucro certification and transform the value chain from grower to consumer.

Our farmer support programmes have allowed us to design, demonstrate and deploy sustainable sugarcane production processes at scale. We support farmers and mills in 19 countries across four continents with training, knowledge building and affordable digitization to facilitate enhanced yields and create better livelihoods.

As an active member of Bonsucro, the better sugarcane initiative, Solidaridad is dedicated to improving the environmental and social impacts of sugarcane production. With Bonsucro we focus on issues such as legal compliance, fair labor practices, responsible expansion, efficient water use and biodiversity conservation.

Recognizing the need for locally adaptable and globally aligned solutions, we’ve integrated smart solutions by creating collaborative multi-stakeholder platforms. We cover issues including water scarcity, climate change, soil health pollution, productivity, profitability and labor.

Through Solidaridad’s sugarcane farming capacity building programmes, I’ve seen huge change in my practices. It’s improved my understanding and enabled me to achieve better yield than before.

Elod Kafaukoma, farmer, Kasinthula Cane Growers Association, Malawi

Achievements

Partnering for change

In Mexico, we partnered with Coca-Cola, Barry Callebaut and CNPR, the Mexican farmers’ association, to pilot a responsible recruitment programme. PanameriCaña developed a programme guide focused on preventing forced and child labour and promoting gender inclusion, health and safety programmes, social security coverage and many other fair labour practices.

In South America, RWE, one of the largest players in renewable energies, and Raízen, one of the largest sugarcane processors in the world, partnered with Solidaridad to identify the risks and opportunities of using sugarcane bagasse and straw for power generation. This initiative has set the bases for a circular value chain that optimizes resources and brings value back to the producers. Meanwhile in Southern Africa, the Sugarcane project trained 534 smallholder farmers from 19 associations on good practices, mainly Bonsucro principles and other complementary on-farm practices. The cumulative number of farmers that had adopted good practices in the Sugarcane project by the end of 2020 was 4,675. 

Achieving excellence

In Asia, we trained 94,808 farmers in 2019, and brought 89,991 hectares of land under sustainable production. Over 6 million tonnes of sugarcane was produced sustainably, with yield increases of 15%. The adoption of water-efficient practices saved 300 billion litres of water, while 48,000 farmers mulched their fields instead of burning them, significantly reducing carbon emissions. 

In Brazil, 45% of the farmers enrolled in our Elo sustainability initiative achieved a level of excellence, implementing more than 80% of the recommended practices, entitling them to higher prices. Finally, in Central America we began working with the largest regional holding groups and implemented the first gender and youth inclusive sugarcane productivity pilot. In Mexico alone, we achieved the first Bonsucro certification and began implementing the first smallholder productivity programme, positioning Solidaridad as lead advisor to the main union as it modernizes its role.

Scaling up

Solidaridad’s teams in Brazil and Colombia scaled up and increased outreach through digital solutions under the ELO, Muda Cana and Pro Cana programme covering 363,000 hectares and production of 24 million tons. In South Africa, Zambia and Malawi our capacity building programmes supported almost 5,000 farmers. In India, we trained 27,000 farmers and 60,000 hectares of land were brought under sustainable agriculture covering 13 mills.

Growing impact

The sustainable sugarcane programme in Brazil with Raizen and Orplana has expanded in terms of area (27,300 to 34,414 hectares) and numbers of both participating farmers (2,100 to 2,800) and associated farmer (100 to 126). The Rural Horizons platform is in the process of being upgraded to mobile Digital 3S to enable farmers to use it in the field. In Colombia, the number of producers using Rural Horizons increased from 50 to 200.

A changing narrative

The sustainability narrative for the global sugarcane sector is changing. Water, climate change, labour, productivity, smallholder vulnerability and outgrower integration issues have emerged as major challenges. Solidaridad continued to develop multi-stakeholder dialogues and partnerships to address regional and global priorities. The focus in 2016 was on implementing good agricultural practices, creating robust infrastructure, enabling sustainable landscapes and facilitating better policy environments.

Addressing water scarcity

Water scarcity is one of the main long-term challenges for many sugarcane growing regions around the world. This is why Solidaridad has initiated public-private partnerships in South Africa and India to increase the amount of crops produced per drop and reduce agricultural demand. Solidaridad and our partners will build on tried and tested approaches to increase smallholder sugarcane production and improve water stewardship with the help of satellite derived data.

New opportunities

Solidaridad received almost €3 million from The Dutch National Postcode Lottery fund to combat the Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) epidemic in Central America.

Aiming for better labour practices

Solidaridad starts working on better labour practices in the Mexican sugarcane industry together with ILO SIMAPRO and launches the ‘How to Change the World with Sugarcane’ campaign.

Helping farmers adapt to change

Solidaridad, the International Finance Corporation, and four companies began the largest global sugarcane project, targeting 229,000 growers who supply to 14 mills across seven states.

Solidaridad successfully contributes to Projeto Renovação in Brazil, having retrained 4,500 former cane cutters to find alternative work after mechanization of cane harvesting.

Achieving goals

With the support of Solidaridad, Equipav mill from Renuka, Brazil is the second mill worldwide to attain Bonsucro certification.

Additionally, 483 sugarcane growers that participated in our Bolivian projects were awarded a certificate for the eradicating of child labour, forced labour, and discrimination.

Producer support expands

Start of producer support programmes in India, Pakistan, Malawi, Belize, and Honduras in partnership with Bonsucro.

From Brazil to the Netherlands

Solidaridad and Argos Energy partnered to set up the first certified supply chain for ethanol, from Brazil to The Netherlands.

Bonsucro

Solidaridad helped to co-found the Better Sugarcane Initiative, later renamed: Bonsucro.

Where we work

Featured Programmes

PanameriCaña — Sustainable Sugarcane Platform

Sugarcane is one of the fastest-growing commodities across Mexico and Central America.  Solidaridad has partnered with the region’s leading sugarcane producers to launch PanAmericaña, a multi-stakeholder platform of sugar mills across Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras to improve production, labor conditions and standards across the industry.

Moving beyond certification

Solidaridad’s sugarcane programme strategy is embedded in the local reality. The model of Solidaridad builds on an aligned agenda driven by a strong business case for producers, processors and end users. The programme not only allows buyers to move beyond their immediate supply chain but also diversify their base of sustainable suppliers while addressing the most critical issues faced by sugarcane farming sector in India.

Join us in making sugar truly sustainable.