Grown in more than 110 countries globally, sugarcane is the most produced food crop in the world and sugarcane yield has risen 15% over the last decade.
According to environmental group WWF, the cultivation and processing of sugar produce environmental impacts through the loss of natural habitats, intensive use of water, heavy use of agro-chemicals, discharge and runoff of polluted effluent and air pollution. This leads to the degradation of wildlife, soil, air and water where sugar is produced and of downstream ecosystems. Production in many countries has moved to marginal areas removing natural rainforests, mangroves and other sensitive environments.
Human rights issues are also a cause for concern in the sugarcane sector. The industry is beset by problems including forced and child labour and endemic poverty.
Certification scheme Bonsugro wants to be part of the solution, bringing attention to environmental and human rights issues in the supply chain.
“Sugarcane production can have negative environmental impacts, for example water depletion and pollution pose major risks in some sugarcane-growing areas,” Nicolas Viart, Head of Standards & Innovation at Bonsucro, told FoodNavigator. “We believe that sustainability standards, like Bonsucro, play an important role in driving sustainability. They draw attention to important issues in supply chains, like deforestation and child labour, and offer solutions of how to mitigate those problems.”
Bonsucro plays a convening role in the sugarcane sector with the aim of collaboratively solving sustainability challenges by involving all actors in the supply chain.
“Our Production Standard enables producers to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to buyers. If they adhere to our set strict social and environmental indicators, buyers can buy sugarcane and its derivatives with confidence. The Production Standard is a clear framework that producers can work towards and assess their progress.”
To achieve this, credibility is crucial, Viart continued, noting that there is a risk that without third-party validation certification schemes can be used for greenwashing. “Sustainability standards can only play a useful role when they are a credible system like Bonsucro. Unfortunately, many schemes aren’t verified by third parties which leads to greenwashing. We are ISEAL Code Compliant – which provides verification that our Standards system is robust.”
New strategic objectives
Bonsurco recently laid out three new strategic objectives with the ambition of supporting a further sustainable transition within the sugarcane sector.
The new strategic priorities are to:
- Improve the environmental impact of sugarcane.
- Strengthen human rights & decent work in sugarcane farming and milling.
- Create value across the sugarcane supply chain.
Highlights include driving climate action in the sugarcane sector towards science-based targets, protecting biodiversity and soil health, addressing the water crisis, safe recruitment for migrant workers, zero tolerance of child and forced labour, the promotion of fairer wages; and increasing the market uptake of Bonsucro certified sugar, ethanol and molasses to incentivise more sustainable production.
Climate action: ‘We are up to the challenge’
“Bonsucro wants to lead the sector towards Science Based Targets on climate change,” Viart noted. “Bonsucro is one of the few sustainability standards that has developed its own tool to measure greenhouse gas emissions from sugarcane production, processing and transport. Our GHG accounting tool is also compliant with EU-RED.”
The sustainability expert pointed to research highlighting the positive impact the adoption of Bonsucro standards across the sugar cane industry would have on the sector’s carbon footprint. “Scientific models indicate that global adoption of the Bonsucro Standard would halve GHG emissions from the global sugarcane sector. We want to use this knowledge and our convening role to mobilise and scale up climate action in the sugarcane sector to meet the Paris Agreement. It must be a collective effort – but we are up to the challenge.”
Bonsucro said its certified sugarcane producers will continue to improve their environmental performance year-on-year. At the same time, over the next five years, Bonsucro said it will ‘lead’ the sector’s development of GHG reduction targets and pathways, address the water crisis through collaborative action and promote regenerative agriculture for soil health and biodiversity.
“Bonsucro will combine the strengths of its globally recognised sustainability Standards and its 266-strong membership in 50 countries, to convene the sugarcane sector to create a powerful force for change,” the organisation claimed.
Strengthening human rights in sugarcane
Bonsucro also intends its five-year plan to help strengthen human rights sugarcane, much of which is grown in countries where poor working conditions remain commonplace.
The certification organisation will ‘drive and support decent work’ for stakeholders, with zero tolerance for forced labour and child labour. The Standard will also be leveraged to ensure the safe recruitment of migrant workers and support gender equality. Significantly, Bonsucro is working with partners to develop and pilot living wages in specific origins.
“Bonsucro exists to address these environmental issues and consider the social challenges that are present in the supply chain - such as human rights violations. We welcome increased scrutiny – the more we talk about these issues, the more chance we have at making positive changes at scale,” Viart explained.
Creating value across the chain
At the end of the day, for certification schemes like Bonsucro to be able to have a positive impact at scale, they need to deliver value.
The sustainable sugarcane certifier achieves this by reducing business, legal and reputational risks.
“Bonsucro already has a certification mark for brands to show they source sugarcane responsibly. To use the logo on pack, companies have to be a Bonsucro member and certified against the Chain of Custody Standard and 95% of the sugarcane volume must be from a certified source. We have seen a big increase in the past year of organisations wanting to make claims and use the logo on pack from the likes of Hershey’s and Tetra Pak,” Viart observed.
“Our certification system captures a lot of data from the producers and one of our new strategic aims is to take full advantage of this data and help producers to use it to tell their story and show buyers exactly how sustainable their production is.”
It is working to stimulate market demand to increase uptake of certified sugar, investing in impact projects to support smallholders and increasing sales through the Bonsucro credit trading platform.
“One trend we see is that membership is steadily and consistently growing. Plus, we’re seeing more interest from newer markets such as biofuels and bioplastics.
“It can take time for sugarcane producers to adopt more sustainable practices - financial investment and training is often required. This is why we’re committed to partnering with our members, other sustainability standards and the financial community - to provide training and help independent and smallholder farmers become more sustainable.”