India: New step towards more sustainable sugar

Solidaridad and businesses in India are making progress in producing more sugar that has been certified by the Bonsucro standard, the global standard for more sustainable sugarcane. At the moment less than two per cent of all sugarcane in the world is certified. Solidaridad and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) have started a programme to support 200,000 farmers in India in improving their performance and certification of their sugar cane.

Goals for the programme

The programme is part of the Solidaridad Farmer Support Programme (FSP),a public private partnership for the period 2012-2015 developed to support 400,000 small-holders and 400,000 workers globally in an area of 750,000 hectares.

The four year programme in India will support 200,000 farmers to:

  • Increase their productivity with 10% on average
  • Decrease water input by 20% on average
  • Decrease input of chemical agents by 20% on average
  • Increase their income by 15%

The programme also aims to certify the production of at least three mills and 15,000 of their supplying farmers. This is ground-breaking work in India, as no mills have been certified according to the Bonsucro standard so far.

Problems in sugarcane sector India

India is the second largest sugarcane producer in the world, as well as the largest sugar consuming country. The industry is facing serious challenges, which are underpinned by unstable government policies and a set of environmental and social issues related to cane cultivation.

Poor access to inputs, knowledge and capital make cane farming unviable for farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Orissa – where many farmers are marginalized. Poor soil management, seed cane management and growing practices are the standard in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, leading to high costs and low sugar recovery. The situation in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is generally better due to better education levels and more effective mill extension departments.

Ineffective irrigation is one of the major issues facing Indian agriculture, and sugarcane is the largest user of water after paddy. Declining water tables add to environmental decline as well as social conflict in many cane growing areas.

Partners are part of the solution

Solidaridad works together with IFC, the International Finance Corporation and six mill groups. They will implement the project that aims to support farmers in improving their practices, increasing their access to technology and credit as well as building a pan-Indian platform to structurally improve the sugarcane industry. Sven Sielhorst, international programme coordinator Sugarcane of Solidaridad is pleased: “It is great to see that sugar mills and IFC are showing leadership, it is a great step towards more sustainable sugar on the world market and I hope more companies will follow this good example, more can and must be done to improve the social and environmental footprint of the sugarcane industry”.

Sugarcane workers Brazil

Solidaridad will also scale up its contribution to retraining of Brazilian sugarcane cutters who lose their jobs as a consequence of rapidly mechanising cane harvesting in centre-south Brazil. While this has clear environmental benefits and increases the quality of work in the sector, an estimated 96,000 cane cutters will lose their job. These people are generally poorly qualified, and have limited opportunities in the otherwise booming Brazilian labour market.

Solidaridad has partnered in a retraining programme to increase the employability of these redundant cane cutters. Some of them are trained for new jobs in mechanized harvesting and handling, and others for jobs outside the industry. This program has been running for two years now under the leadership of UNICA, the Brazilian sugarcane association. The RenovAcão programme has so far re-qualified 4,550 workers. The approved programme aims to scale up the retraining with 9,000 workers.