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Smallholders & Bonsucro Ensuring inclusivity in sustainable sugarcane

Bonsucro’s vision is a sugarcane sector with thriving, sustainable producer communities and resilient, assured supply chains. Our Production Standard is the most credible and widely accepted sustainability standard for sugarcane, and is the principal tool for achieving Bonsucro’s vision.

Smallholder farmers are the crucial foundation of many sugarcane supply chains around the world. To date, the participation of smallholders in the Bonsucro certification process has been limited, as the realities of smallholding sugarcane production differ from larger farms. This meant it was difficult to apply parts of the Production Standard to small-scale sugarcane agriculture.

In order to make sure that Bonsucro’s vision is truly achievable and inclusive, and considering the beneficial impact of sustainability for smallholder farmers and their dependent supply chains, Bonsucro embarked on a review of the Bonsucro Production Standard in the smallholder context.

This has culminated in the new Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers – an adaptation of the Bonsucro Production Standard, and this will ultimately support the uptake of the Bonsucro Principles and Criteria for sustainable sugarcane farming around the world.

What’s in the Standard?

The Bonsucro Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers covers environmental, social, and economic sustainability with performance-based indicators specifically designed for application to sugarcane production.

Seven Principles:

This is not a reduction of the Production Standard. There are non-core indicators that have been removed, but the scope of the core indicators has remained the same, ensuring Bonsucro certified farms mean, for example, compliance with ILO conventions, no use of banned agrochemicals, and environmental and health and safety plans. There are also new requirements added in Principle 7 that are specific for smallholder farmers, including ‘stepwise’ indicators – a feature that Bonsucro is increasingly working towards – in order to encourage continuous improvement.

The Standard is accompanied by the Smallholder Group Calculator – developed for smallholders to demonstrate compliance with the Standard, along with a Farm Diary

Piloting The Smallholder Standard Around The World

Smallholder consultation in India. Photo: Sonia Slavinski / Bonsucro

As part of the development process, the new Standard was piloted with three Bonsucro members – TRR Group’s Saraburi mill in Thailand, CAEI’s Cristobal Colón mill in the Dominican Republic, and Baramati Agro’s mill in India.

Baramati Agro is a 30-year old agroprocessing company with two sugarcane mills in Maharashtra state, which are both working towards Bonsucro certification. Leading on the project is Nitin Kayande, who works with an agriculture team of 4 people, part a bigger sustainability team of 22 covering the mill and agriculture.

“From a milling perspective, we are used to audits, mainly for social requirements, so Bonsucro implementation at the mill is not a big challenge. The main challenge for us is at the farm level. We first trained the agricultural team, and then prepared a survey covering all of the Standard’s principles, and collected data for 50 farmers, who were then classified in three groups in terms of their sustainability performance – ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’, with ‘A’ being the most advanced. We then focused on bring the B and C groups up to the level of the ‘A’ group. Extension workers were given training on the Bonsucro principles. In total, we’re working with 332 farmers based within a 25-kilometre radius of the mill. As of now, all of these farmers have achieved ‘A’ group status.”

According to Nitin, the main challenge for the Baramati Agro team was the minimum wage, given that the payment terms were not calculated on an hourly basis, something they have been working on changing. They have also implemented environmental and health & safety plans on the farms, ensuring first aid kits, ambulances and primary health care centres are readily available. For Nitin, the new Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers has proved to be much more effective in engaging smallholders in sustainability improvement work: “The Farm Diary is a very useful tool, and we believe it, plus the Standard, will help farmers to increase their profits and in turn, their living standards’.

Over in Thailand, Thai Roong Ruang Group’s Saraburi mill, located north-east of Bangkok, has been working with a portion of its supplying farmers in order to achieve certification, and carried out a pilot in March 2018.

To begin with, they have been working with 30 farmers, with the usual farm size ranging between 15 and 20 hectares. Techanit Onaree is leading the mill’s work with smallholders: “In total we’re working on Bonsucro implementation with farms totalling around 480 hectares, but we’re aiming at nearly tripling that amount next year”. For Techanit, the new Standard will be a big boost to their sustainability work: “It helps to make it clearer for smaller farmers as to what is required of them. Before it was harder to get the farmers to commit themselves to working on Bonsucro, but we’re seeing that change with the new Standard, which is much more aligned with the realities on the ground.”

Techanit says that he believes that the new Standard will ensure that more farmers in Thailand can participate in Bonsucro. “Much of Thailand’s sugarcane farming is small-scale –they are a key part of the supply chain. So, for a sustainable industry, it is so important to engage smallholders in Bonsucro.”

In the Dominican Republic, smallholder farms are not as widespread in the country as they are in India and Thailand. CAEI’s Cristobal Colón mill, which achieved Bonsucro certification in June 2016, also participated in a smallholder pilot. CAEI’s Victoria Canto explained that despite the fact that the mill is supplied by a minority of smallholders, the pilot was still useful: “It was of great interest to us to participate in the pilot of the Smallholder Standard, not only for the contribution we could make to the organisation, but also for our own benefit. The initiative has better prepared us to make changes and institute practices that will strengthen our supply chain, even if it only contributes to 8% of our sugar production.”

Want to know more?

Download the Standard & Quick Guide

The Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers is available to download from the Bonsucro website:

Contact a Certification Body

If you’re interested in certifying using this Standard, get in touch with a Licensed CB to arrange a pre-audit or auditJoin a Bonsucro Technical Week

The Bonsucro Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers + Calculator will be included in Bonsucro Technical Week training – see upcoming Technical Weeks

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