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.