The way commodities such as sugarcane, palm oil, and timber are produced can have a huge impact on the environment, affecting biodiversity, water and the climate.
Certification standards play an important role in creating sustainable supply chains. A new study led by the University of Minnesota found that adoption of the Bonsucro standard in the global sugarcane sector could reduce the negative impact of its production, through significant decrease in water usage, greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
As part of our series, The Future of Commodities, we are interviewing Danielle Morley, CEO at Bonsucro, on how this multi-stakeholder platform is working to make sugarcane sustainable worldwide.
What is Bonsucro and why was it established?
Bonsucro began in the mid-2000s with a gathering of like-minded organisations that understood that collaboration – along with a common understanding of what sustainable sugarcane looks like – was key to driving sustainability for the sugarcane industry.
We’re now the most widely-accepted organisation for sustainable sugarcane. Today there are over 10 million hectares of Bonsucro certified sugarcane land, our producer members represent 25% of global sugarcane production, and our buyer members represent 20% of global sugar purchasing.
How is Bonsucro scaling impact in sugarcane growing regions?
Sugarcane is grown in over 100 countries around the world, so we focus our efforts on priority regions where sugarcane plays a fundamental role in the economy, such as Brazil, India, Thailand and Mexico.
Our scaling strategy varies from region to region as the circumstances differ considerably depending on where you are in the world. For example, India has more than 25 million small scale sugarcane farmers, whereas places like Brazil usually have large-scale farms that are attached to mills – so different approaches are needed.
Bonsucro has recently launched a smallholder standard, which will really help our members scale up impact in regions where smallholder farming is widespread.
What are some of the main lessons learnt along the way?
Collaboration is key. By working together, we can achieve so much more impact than if we were working alone, which is why it is important to have organisations like Bonsucro to provide a platform for action and a shared vision of what a sustainable sugarcane industry looks like.
We know that change won’t happen overnight – it requires patience, time, investment and collaboration throughout the supply chain.
What is the role of certification in transforming the sector and what are the main challenges?
For buyers, third-party certification gives confidence. It’s also a tool for recognising the businesses that are buying and producing sugarcane sustainably.
For farms and mills, our standards give producers measurable targets in a credible, widely-accepted framework. Because our Production Standard is metric, there isn’t the subjectivity that comes with many better management practice schemes.
This is being supported by research – a new peer-reviewed study has shown that the Bonsucro Standard is a highly effective framework for environmental protection in sugarcane production. Crucially, it also shows that application of the Standard leads to increased sugarcane yields.
In terms of challenges, there are plenty to keep us busy! As mentioned, the variation in practices between small- and large-scale farmers will always be tricky, but the main challenge we face as a small but global organisation remains the uptake of standards.
So far, we have 500+ members, representing 25% of global sugarcane production and 20% of global sugar purchasing; we’ve certified 10+ million hectares of sugarcane land. But if you consider universal adoption of Bonsucro standards would lead to 65% reduction in global water use, 34% in global water quality, save 51% global GHG emissions and save 96% of global habit loss, you see the consistent challenge that remains is getting our message out there to make these results happen.
How do you track progress to ensure change is being driven across the whole sugarcane supply chain – from improved farmer livelihoods to increased consumer awareness?
Our robust monitoring and evaluation programme is our progress tracker, which forms the basis of our annual Outcome Report. Because our standards are metric, we get a huge amount of data through our certification system, which really helps us dig deep into the outcomes and impacts of Bonsucro around the world.
We also work with our members to highlight the more qualitative side of Bonsucro’s impacts, as it’s important to not just focus on the data, but to remember the local, on-the-ground aspect of sugarcane sustainability.
What does a ‘climate-smart’ future for sugarcane look like?
Sugarcane is the world’s largest crop by biomass, it supports millions of lives globally, and it’s an incredibly efficient photosynthesiser.
However, it’s a thirsty crop and climate change-induced droughts can have highly negative impacts on its production. A climate-smart future for sugarcane would involve reducing GHG emissions and farmers’ exposure to short-term risks.
The variety of challenges that climate change brings can only be solved through a collaboration. This means encouraging dialogue throughout the supply chain, involving everyone from producers to buyers, through to the governments, civil society, financial institutions, and all the organisations in between.
By providing a platform for collaboration, Bonsucro does just that – promoting dialogue and action between people and businesses that might ordinarily be on opposite sides of the table, to create a climate smart future for the sugarcane sector together.
Greenhouse PR takes great pride in working with pioneers who are helping transform the way commodities are produced. If your organisation is involved in driving change in supply chains and has a story to tell, we’d love to hear from you.