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    Global standards: Sweeten sugar for buyers


    International Trade Forum - Issue 3/2010

    BSI's Founding Chairman visited a Colombian cane field and spoke with cane cutters about working conditions.

    With biofuels becoming more prominent on the global market, production is being expanded in Brazil, Asia and Africa. This expansion has environmental groups concerned that sugar cane's environmental impact  outweighs the economic and social benefits.

    To help achieve sustainable sugar production, BSI was formed in 2005 as a not-for-profit organization involving sugar retailers, investors, traders, producers and non-governmental organizations. Members include some major corporations, including Shell, BP, The Coca-Cola Company and Ferrero, and small family farmers working on just half a hectare, or an acre, of land.

    Four years of research and public and industry consultation have led to the first-ever world standards for sugar cane production. BSI standards, developed using the ISEAL code of good practice, were finalized at the end of 2009, and the first accredited ethanol is expected to be released in November 2010. This will be the first of the world's new globally accredited sugar cane products.

    The standards embody social, environmental and sustainability targets in one document and incorporate 49 measureable criteria capturing the core concerns of buyers and consumers, including labour, social impacts, climate change, pollution and high-conservation-value land use.

    BSI standards for the production of sugar and sugar cane products are designed to be accessible to corporations of all sizes and BSI is committed to helping them gain accreditation.One of the objectives of BSI is to contain costs and to help growers save money by using inputs such as energy, fertilizers and water more efficiently and minimizing losses and wastage. For example, increasing sugar cane trash retention benefits the environment by reducing the amount of cane that is burnt. It is also good for soil ecology and provides a boost to soil nutrients, which reduces the use of inorganic fertilizers, saving farmers money.

    The standards provide advantages to buyers and sellers. For buyers, BSI-accredited cane growers or ethanol producers ensure that they are adhering to world best practice. For sellers, it can provide access to new markets that might in the past have questioned the environmental credentials of their product.

    The standards incorporate not only principles regarding the minimization of environmental harm, but equally enshrine respect for human rights and internationally recognized labour standards. BSI standards are organized around five core principles:

    • Obey the law
    • Respect human rights and labour standards
    • Manage input, production and processing efficiencies to enhance sustainability
    • Manage biodiversity and ecosystem services actively
    • Improve continuously key areas of the business.

    The standards provide an auditable set of benchmarks that accredited growers and processors must meet, with specific criteria underpinning core principles.

    For more information on BSI and BSI standards, see www.bettersugarcane.org.



    Protection of High-Conservation Areas: Brazil

    One of the strongest criticisms of the sugar cane industry has come from concerns about the clearance of native vegetation. These have focused mainly on Brazil, the world's largest producer of sugar cane, which has been expanding production to meet growing global biofuel demand.

    The expansion of sugar cane into areas of high-conservation and critical biodiversity values is prevented under BSI principle four, which protects such areas from being cleared for cane growing after January 2008. It also mandates that soils with significant soil-stored carbon, such as peat lands, mangroves, wetlands and certain grasslands, are protected.



    Reducing Inputs: India

    Indian sugar processing company EID Parry pioneered sugar cane corporate milling and production in India. The company, which has about 10,000 sugar cane growers who cultivate between one and three hectares of sugar cane, was one of the first to join BSI.

    BSI provided the company's mills and farmers with access to information on best practices and guidelines for improving the status of soil and water resources. Growing sugar cane is water-intensive and EID Parry developed systems to use water more efficiently. As a result, its Pudukottai plant was awarded the 2006-2007 'Excellent Water Efficient Unit' and 'Innovative Case Study' at India's National Awards for Excellence in Water Management.

    The company is also testing new irrigation systems, which will enable sugar cane growers to exceed BSI standards for using less than 50 litres of water per kilogram of cane produced.



    Sugar Mill Exceeds Standard: Colombia

    The association representing sugar cane producers in Colombia, ASOCAÑA, joined BSI in 2010 to help its members meet trade standards demanded by importers, including the European Union.

    A major challenge within developing countries is compliance with International Labour Organization (ILO) standards, especially in relation to child labour, and regulations on health and safety in agriculture. It is a challenge that the Colombian sugar industry has taken on. Working on piecework rates (US$ 3 per tonne of cane), a Colombian cane cutter can now earn three to four times the average national wage. In addition, each cane cutter is supplied with safety equipment, including shin-guards and boots and gloves strengthened with steel inserts.

    The Providencia mill near Cali not only complies with ILO standards but has built a school that provides education for 4,000 students. The running costs for the school come from community families who earn income by making uniforms and protective clothing for the mill and field workers. It is a multi-layered economic enterprise providing significant community benefits.