Enhancing sugarcane sustainability in South America

In a joint effort to enhance sustainability initiatives and foster synergies between Solidaridad sugarcane partners in South America, project managers Fatima Cardoso and Josefina Eisele arranged a 3-day field trip for Argentinean, Bolivian and Paraguay mills representatives and to the number one sugarcane producer in the world, Brazil. The event took place early in September.

The main objective of the field trip was to present Brazilian mills and farming best practices in social and environmental management, and to exchange experiences on Bonsucro certification and other mechanisms that stimulate constant progress on sustainability both in industry and fields.

The delegation has a special interest in São Paulo’s agribusiness trends and innovations, which consisted of tri-national sugarcane platform programme members Ingenio Guabirá Azucarero SA (Bolivia) director Jaime Gareca Rossel, Guabira Cane Union representative Maximiliano Rupp, directors of Ingenio Providencia-Arcor América (Argentina) Enrique Guillermo Germán and Antonio Valenti, as well as representatives of Azucarera Paraguaya SA, Rubén Cardozo and Andrea Horvath. The Solidaridad team was represented by Cardoso and Eisele, Violaine Laurens, from São Paulo and Hugo Eguez, from Bolivia.

Brazil’s cane growing region

The first part of the schedule centered on visits to mills and sugarcane fields around the city of Ribeirão Preto, heart of Brazil’s most important cane growing region. Here the group visited Socicana Association of Sugar Cane Suppliers of Guaribá, where an example of mechanized harvest could be seen at the farm of one of Socicana’s directors, and “Usina da Pedra” (Pedra’s Mill, associated to Coopersucar). It was also a good opportunity to discuss the challenges to eliminate burning and promote social and environmental practices with suppliers and associates. In this regard, Solidaridad together with Socicana has developed a project to qualify sugarcane suppliers and enable them to comply with certification standards.

At Usina da Pedra there was a showcase of new technologies being implemented by the sector in the country, such as new methods of collecting and packing sugarcane straw from the fields to produce bio-electricity and cellulosic ethanol, and new developments on green plastic.

Unica and Piracicaba

The group held a meeting with UNICA Corporate Social Responsibility manager, Maria Luiza Barbosa and Sustainability analyst, Aline Silva. They run a presentation on the social actions undertaken by UNICA organisation (that represents Center South Brazil mills), especially in relation to the joint project with Solidaridad, RenovAção. This is a requalification programme for cane cutters that effectively links the process of mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting with social responsibility.

On the next day, the group headed to Piracicaba, another important cane growing region in the State of Sao Paulo. The highlights of the trip were the visits to Sugarcane Technology Center Piracicaba (Centro de Tecnologia Canavieira), the most important private research center of sugarcane technology in Latin America and Raízen’s “Usina Costa Pinto” mills. At Costa Pinto, Raizen’s head of sustainability, Davi Araujo, presented the challenges and opportunities of certifying Bonsucro. Raizen has committed itself to certify all their mills in Brazil and received its first Bonsucro certification globally for its Maracaí mill last year.

Final leg

The final meeting was at UNICA headquarters in São Paulo, where executive director, Eduardo Leão de Sousa, led a presentation highlighting the current situation of the domestic market and the sustainable practices adopted in Brazil for ethanol production.

For both Guabira Cane Union and Ingenio Azucarero Guabira, who are firmly committed to certify under Bonsucro standard, expectations were fulfilled. The comparison between what was observed and their own conditions triggered an internal evaluation to determine their starting point to carry out the certification process. It also provided profitable lessons to apply locally in an upgrading process, as well as setting up the bases for future alliances with UCG, CITTCA, mills and other Brazilian institutions.

Eguez stated; “Regardless of cultural, language and political differences between our countries, the problems remain the same. We explored smart ways of dealing with the challenge of retraining workers faced with an early elimination of manual harvesting. We identified performance indicators that allow benchmarking with local indicators, strategies to edge technological research and reached an altogether better understanding of the ethanol production market. This trip has been an opportunity to renew and confirm ideas, to gain a valuable agenda of contacts and to continue working for the sustainability of the sector with renewed motivation.”


This is a September 2012 field trip diary of Solidaridad Project Managers: Fatima Cardoso and Josefina Eisele.