Guabirá A sustainability leader in Bolivia

Sugarcane mill becomes the first in Bolivia to achieve Bonsucro certification

In May 2018, Bolivia became the latest addition to the list of countries with Bonsucro certified sugarcane mills. Following an audit by Control Union, Ingenio Azucarero Guabirá was awarded Bonsucro Production and Chain of Custody certificates. Bolivia joins Brazil, Argentina and Colombia in the list of South American countries with Bonsucro certified mills.

Mariano Aguilera, President of Guabirá, welcomed the achievement: “The importance of Bonsucro is the recognition that a third party gives to our environmental and social sustainability processes, implemented in accordance with international standards throughout the sugarcane production chain. We see it as necessary that Guabirá’s sustainability practices at the mill, and within its sugarcane suppliers – the Unión Agropecuaria de Cañeros Guabirá – are endorsed and certified by a third party, demonstrating their compliance with international standards and the recognition of their stakeholders.”

The majority of Bolivian sugarcane production is located in Santa Cruz and Tarija departments. Guabirá is located in Santa Cruz, in the centre of the country, and has been operating for over sixty years.

Working with outgrowers

The mill does not own any sugarcane-producing land itself – is supplied entirely by outgrowers.

Mariano recognises that this meant that the certification process was not a straightforward box-ticking exercise: “We emphasize that the process was difficult, since Guabirá does not have its own cane, so the active participation of our cane suppliers was fundamental to achieve this certification.” explains Mariano. “In addition it should also allow the mill to improve their sales with customers with sustainable sourcing policies.”

With the mill’s sugarcane supply chain being dominated by outgrowers, it is inevitable that the most pronounced changes as part of the certification process were to be found here.

“The sugarcane producers that participated in this initial phase of certification have implemented administrative processes and made various investments to comply with the Production Standard’s requirements.” says Rodolfo Jordan, the president of the Unión Agropecuaria de Cañeros Guabirá.

A cumulative process

Jaime Gareca, who leads the mill’s administration, emphasises that the Bonsucro certification is the culmination of many years’ work on improving the sustainability of its operations. “We started the certification process in 2006, with an impact and social acceptance analysis of the business”, says Jaime. “This was carried out with the technical support of the Swiss international organisation, SECO, and subsequently, with our cane suppliers, we implemented good labour practices in a program called ‘export with social inclusion’”.

“In 2013, we were the first sugar mill in Bolivia to achieve certification against the Triple Seal Standard, a Bolivian Government Initiative that certifies that production was carried out free of child labour, free of forced labour and free of discrimination. And finally, in 2018, we certified our sugar and alcohol products with the Bonsucro Production and Chain of Custody Standards.”

Jaime explains that working with external organisations played an important part in the certification process, “During the process towards Bonsucro certification we worked with different institutions and supporters, to which we are grateful, and we can specifically highlight the training on the Standard from Bonsucro, along with their institutional support, and the technical collaboration from Solidaridad Network, channelled in Bolivia at that time through Josefina Eisele.”

A responsible supply chain

Through the Production Standard, and the Bonsucro Calculator – used to assess compliance with the Standard’s indicators – mills and farms have a powerful tool to assess where improvements need to be made. “[The Standard & Calculator] played an important role for us” says Jaime. “Something that positively differentiates this Standard from others is that it provides metric objectives that must be met for each requirement.”

According to Jaime, one of the main learnings of the mill’s administration was that the mill had to concern itself with the sustainability of its own suppliers as well as the mill’s operations. “One learning was understanding that we are socially and environmentally responsible for the entire sugarcane production chain,” says Jaime, “and we needed to form alliances with the raw material supplier sector to implement new sustainability practices. We were able to take advantage of the ISO and OHaS tools and techniques already used in Guabirá and apply them to the Bonsucro requirements. We’re clear now that it is a continuous improvement process that must allow new participants to be permanently added in the future.”

Guabirá have found that their certification journey has proved to be of interest to other mills in a similar situation: “Our significant experience is in the way in which we have achieved the involvement and compliance of cane suppliers within this certification. This process has drawn the attention, queries and visits to Guabirá from sugar mills that also do not have their own cane, or that buy their cane from third parties that they want to obtain Bonsucro certification,” says Jaime.

Rudiger Trepp, Manager of Guabirá, explains the mill’s next steps: “We will now expand the quantity of certified product, involving more cane suppliers in the process. This phase is already in progress. We’d also like to take advantage of the benchmarking offered by the new service of the online calculator (Bonsucro Connect), and work with the Bonsucro platform and other means to contact and increase sales to customers who prefer sustainable products.

Q&A with Alejandro Hurtado Méndez, Farm Owner (360 ha), supplying to Guabirá

During the process of implementing sustainable practices, have you noticed any benefits?

With the adoption of sustainable practices in agricultural lands & in all the activities that are involved in the cultivation of sugarcane, there has been a greater productivity of cane, a better planning of activities, better protection for the environment, biodiversity, enhancing our natural resources. All this without a doubt is of great advantage for the relationship that exists between the sugarcane producer and the mill, since the sugarcane producer is increasingly committed to the implementation of sustainable practices, which allow the Sugar Mill Guabira to have a better economic, social and environmental viability.

What were your motivations for initiating good practices of sustainability?

The objective of adopting good sustainability practices is to contribute to the reduction of environmental and social impacts, maintaining greater productivity over time and ensuring soil fertility is conserved. In addition to ensuring the welfare of workers and women of present and future generations. In addition to providing a safe work environment for the agricultural worker, through the proper provision of PPE and training provided on issues related to OHS and the environment.

What were the benefits and challenges of working to achieve Bonsucro certification?

One of the main benefits of Bonsucro is that it taught us to work in an orderly and efficient way, leading to better management and control of agricultural properties, respecting human rights and protecting the environment. The main challenge was to create a culture of sustainability among workers, to make them aware that work, no matter how much work is done in the field, must comply with certain formalities and requirements.

Want to learn more?

  • Bonsucro: If you are interested in obtaining Bonsucro certification, get in touch at our website here.
  • Guabirá: To learn more about their certification or to purchase Bonsucro certified products, contact Jaime Gareca.
  • Control Union: To learn more about the auditing services provided by Control Union, contact Danielle Lima, or alternatively see the list of Licensed Certification Bodies on the Bonsucro website.


Photo credits: - Guabirá - Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

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