Agrochemicals & Bonsucro Supporting responsible use of herbicides and pesticides in sugarcane production

Agrochemicals are another important indicator of the Bonsucro Production Standard, while they are used more sparsely in sugarcane; they have the potential to negatively affect the environment and communities living in the surroundings of plantations. In extreme cases in the past, agrochemicals were the source of considerable air and water pollution, causing public health threats.

The Bonsucro Production Standard requires the application of a maximum 5kg of active ingredient per hectare of sugarcane (this includes a provision which prohibits the use of dangerous chemicals as defined by the international conventions of Montreal, Rotterdam and the listed chemicals from the World Health Organisation).

Certified producers perform better than the levels defined by the Bonsucro Standard. In 2015 the level of use of agrochemicals (pesticides and herbicides) was roughly maintained, with a very slight increase in the use of herbicides. Herbicide constitutes the bulk use of agrochemical. Its application varies according to the occurrence of various circumstances and is dependent on factors such as weather conditions, soil conditions, soil preparation and planting methods, outbreaks of weeds, amongst others.

When evaluating the evolution of each products (herbicides vs. insecticides), we observe that herbicides use has been regularly decreasing since season 2012/13 whereas the use of insecticides shows a surge in season 2013/14. In the following seasons the usage has been reduced compared to previous seasons but there is no clear sign of continuous reduction, compared to the use of herbicides.

The result does not show a particular difference between farms that have been certified by Bonsucro since 2012 or more recently. It seems that the use of agrochemical is pretty uniform across the countries where farmers have achieved certification, with the noticeable difference of India, which doesn’t recourse to agrochemical at all (due to the confidentiality of data the report can’t allow the identification of operators and in some countries, there is only one certified operator, this is why countries are not named in the graph below).

Note that these indicators do not provide an assessment of the toxicity of the agrochemical used, except that the most toxic molecules have been removed from the systems as required by the International Conventions.

The performance levels of certified mills reassure Bonsucro on their commitment to sustainability and to minimising negative impacts of agrochemical applications. A valuable exercise for Bonsucro, as with many other indicators, would be to understand certified mills’ performance in relation to non-certified producers.

Fertiliser Application

Fertilisers are critical to ensure optimal level of production of sugarcane, but do pose risks to the environmental sustainability if used without adequate management of soil quality and disposal, which can potentially lead to problems such as runoff and pollution of water streams and to the financial sustainability if used outside of the recommended levels of application.

Average fertiliser application has reduced 15% in 2015/16 compared to 2014/15 (the highest application rate in the series at 303.14 kg Phosphate equivalent per hectare). Generally, fertiliser applications are still below the recommended individual application issued by a local expert or derived from locally recognised best practices. In 2015/16 fertilization application was 17.5% below the recommended levels.

When comparing the ratio of mills certified since 2012 to the average of all mills, we observe that these mills have maintained a higher ratio toward the recommended levels (83.8% in 2015/16 compared to 82.5%). However, the ratio is also continuously decreasing over the years .

The revised Bonsucro Production Standard (v.4.2) stipulates that a mill can apply up to 5% more fertilisers in relation to its recommended application rate. Most mills (82.5%) apply less fertilisers than what is recommended, and therefore, are compliant to the Standard’s requirement. Nonetheless, although this is potentially positive in terms of environmental impacts and biodiversity protection, more data and analyses would be necessary to assess whether this “under fertilisation” is sustainable in the longer-term from a productivity and economic perspective.

Outcome Report 2017

This text is taken from the Bonsucro Outcome Report 2017

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