Sugarcane is primarily grown in tropical countries, providing livelihoods for 100 million people across the world. Brazil’s sugarcane industry employs over 1 million people, or nearly 25 per cent of the rural workforce. In Thailand, the sugarcane supply chains employs 1.5 million people, including 107,000 smallholder farmers, while 1 million people in South Africa depend on the sugarcane industry for their livelihoods.
Sugar is prevalent in the modern diet, and sugarcane is an increasingly important biofuels and bioplastics feedstock. Demand for sugarcane varies geographically, it is expected to increase in developing countries, particularly in Asia and Africa due to population growth and urbanization, with higher demand for processed products, sugar-rich confectionery, and soft drinks. At the same time, sugar intake in developed countries is stagnating due to slowing population growth, dietary changes, health concerns and nutritional commitments made by food manufacturers.
Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) began accounting for a significant share of sugarcane production in 2013, providing consumers with more sustainable sugar options while addressing some challenges such as land rights, forced and child labour, worker’s health and safety, poverty alleviation, waste management and water conservation. Overall, trade in VSS-compliant sugarcane is expected to grow more rapidly relative to conventional sugarcane as demand for more sustainable food and fuel products becomes mainstream.
As consumer demand for more sustainably produced goods and energy grows, VSSs in the sector will continue gaining importance in addressing persistent sustainability issues in sugarcane production, particularly among growers and smallholder farmers in countries ranking low on the UN’s Human Development Index.
We will explore these issues further in our sugar report, to be launched in the second half of 2019.