Smart solutions quench sugarcane’s thirst for water

Water scarcity is one of the main long-term challenges for many sugarcane growing regions around the world. This is why Solidaridad has initiated public-private partnerships in South Africa and India to increase the amount of crops produced per drop and reduce agricultural demand. Solidaridad and our partners will build on tried and tested approaches to increase smallholder sugarcane production and improve water stewardship with the help of satellite derived data.

Number of producers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



In El Salvador, our partners found strong evidence that improving labour conditions for sugarcane cutters can stop the decline in kidney function while improving productivity by 40%. This is significant in the struggle against chronic kidney disease, which disproportionally affects sugarcane field labourers. New and bigger field trials in the 2015/16 harvest are expected to further increase our understanding of how to combat this epidemic.

Our partnership with the IFC in India now involves 14 mills, making it probably the single largest sugarcane specific intervention in the world. The project has yielded encouraging results such as yield increases of 10% to15%, and 129 billion litres of water saved.  Solidaridad is proud to have supported EID Parry’s Pugalur unit in becoming India’s the first Bonsucro certified mill in Asia.

Our partnership with Raízen in Brazil provided opportunities for both organizations to innovate and become more effective in helping sugarcane farmers to improve their performance. The ELO programme centres on building relationships with farmers, using Solidaridad’s Rural Horizons digital self-assessment platform.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • Central America

    Only two and a half years after launching a pilot sugarcane project in Mexico, Solidaridad has achieved international visibility as the leading organization in Mesoamerica capable of facilitating systemic change in the sugarcane sector, from best practices in the mill and field to occupational safety and health interventions that promise to eradicate chronic kidney disease among sugarcane cutters.

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  • East & Central Africa

    Solidaridad worked to support sugarcane farmers and producer organizations in increasing their sustainability and economic benefits. Cheap importation of sugar has influenced local cane prices negatively, leading to low incomes among the cane farmers. The expansion of sugarcane production in Tanzania was seen as an avenue for improved incomes. With the introduction of irrigation technology, land fragmentation will soon be curbed due to a block farming approach.

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  • The Netherlands

    More European companies are increasingly interested in sustainability of sugarcane production, but at the same time, their relative influence on it is decreasing. Solidaridad The Netherlands is mainly supporting corporate and non-corporate partners to be successful in production countries.

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  • North America

    While companies worldwide demand sustainably produced sugarcane, finding adequate supplies is a challenge. To that end, Solidaridad North America, with Bonsucro, is promoting a precompetitive alliance of sugar users that transforms industry-wide practices. Chronic kidney disease among Central American sugarcane cutters is one of the many challenges to be addressed. Solidaridad is engaging companies such as Kellogg Company to combat this epidemic.

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  • South America

    With the successful conclusion of the market development campaign and RenovAção project, Solidaridad stands today as the most respected sector NGO in Brazil, one of the leading producer countries in the world. Solidaridad has proven its ability to integrate the entire supply chain and find innovative solutions to challenges both on farm as well as off farm.

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  • South & South-east Asia

    Solidaridad South & South-East Asia worked in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and leading sugar mills in setting the direction for water efficient sustainable production in India. This initiative has addressed two imperative issues: improving sugar business sustainability and providing economic benefits.

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  • Southern Africa

    The capacity of smallholder sugarcane farmers was strengthened through increased productivity, comprehensive training, organizational development, adoption of sustainable practices, improvements in bulk infrastructure, as well as increasing industry efficiency and competitiveness. This will contribute to reducing poverty by increasing incomes for smallholder sugarcane farmers.

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The global sugar market carried a surplus for the sixth consecutive year, bringing global sugar prices down to record low levels. Industries in leading sugar geographies have been in survival mode with many relying on co-generated electricity to boost their incomes. The ethanol market offered little solace in the face of fierce competition from declining gasoline prices.

The crisis has made many industries and governments around the world realize the need to increase industry resilience to market shockwaves and other external events. There is a need to deal with huge challenges the industry is facing within an all-encompassing framework. Sustainability is gaining in popularity as an approach because it is holistic and can respond to a wide array of challenges, from mill efficiency to climate change. Product diversification toward energy and other non-food applications also offers new ways of looking at the business model.

Solidaridad is working to connect this urgent need for a holistic approach within the industry with the needs and desires of its supply chain partners, financial service providers and donor agencies. This allows us to include the perspectives of workers, farmers and communities that rely on this sector. In our partnerships, we try to identify scenarios that are viable in the long term as well as beneficial in the short term.

Programme investments in thousand euros


Contracted partners per region excluding producer organizations



The year 2015 brought an end to many partnership projects under the Farmer Support Programme, which have strengthened our relationships with relevant stakeholders around the world. However, we have been able to continue many partnerships with alternative resources. Transformational change often requires relationships to be built up over a longer period of time and we are grateful to our partners for recognizing this.

Solidaridad remains an active member of Bonsucro and has campaigned vigorously to broaden its scope from certification to meaningful change. Bonsucro is an increasingly robust organization and our involvement has benefited the quality, reach and profile of our work. Bonsucro and Solidaridad entered into a regional partnership called PanAmericaña to accelerate change in sugarcane production practices across Latin America.

Two new public-private partnerships were initiated in India and South Africa with the support of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. The partnerships go beyond our usual collaboration with farmers and industry to include research organizations, government bodies and technical service providers. These are the types of partners we will need to face future challenges such as water scarcity.


The global sugar market is expected to go into deficit next year and sugar prices are showing signs of improving. However, many farmers and industries struggle to invest in long-term viability due to a lack of resources or opportunities for investment.

Many of the industry’s challenges can only be addressed at the policy level. Sugarcane is often called the most political of crops, and this can make it difficult to achieve quick policy changes. Solidaridad is creating more interventions and partnerships at this level and will perform landscape-level interventions beginning in Zambia, Honduras and India, which will create opportunities for learning and improvement.

Similarly, while there is a desire to modernize in many sugarcane origins, there is a tremendous lack of qualified and affordable commercial agricultural service providers. It is this sector, rather than NGOs, that needs to embrace a more holistic approach toward service provision. Solidaridad is engaging with financial service providers and input providers as well as developing the technical capacity to stimulate this sector worldwide.

Sven Sielhorst

International Programme Coordinator, Sugarcane