Creating sustainable smallholdings

As well as input and output price variability, the sugar sector remains susceptible to shocks related to climate (drought, floods or cold spells), biotics (pests and diseases) and finance (cashflow, liquidity and interest rate changes). Productivity and labour issues can also be sources of stress. Smallholders are the worst affected. Solidaridad promotes value chain partnerships by building trust and transparency, making commitments and pooling resources. This enables smallholders to become entrepreneurs and manage their farms as businesses.

Number of producers and workers supported


Total hectares under sustainable management



The sustainable sugarcane programme in Brazil with Raizen and Orplana has expanded in terms of area (27,300 to 34,414 hectares) and numbers of both participating farmers (2,100 to 2,800) and associated farmer (100 to 126). The Rural Horizons platform is in the process of being upgraded to mobile Digital 3S to enable farmers to use it in the field. In Colombia, the number of producers using Rural Horizons increased from 50 to 200.

In Central America, Solidaridad has continued to raise awareness of and train industry actors to prevent Chronic Kidney Disease (CKDnT), thermic stress and chronic dehydration. A one-day seminar attracted 70 industry participants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The PanameriCaña website and member learning and exchange forum will be launched in Q2 2018.  

In South Africa, the Sustainable Water Fund (FDW) project area was affected by severe drought. However, farmers were able to complete the cropping cycle without failure and maintain yields without decline. The development of e-learning and agro-learning modules is in progress.

In India, the Meetha sona Unnati and FDW projects continued, training 42,856 farmers, 250 extension staff (250) and 10,864 women using mobile vans. Organic carbon improvement was implemented across 20,080 hectares, mechanization on 12,486 hectares and sustainable practices covered 26,906 hectares. Solidaridad installed a biocontrol facility, developed 300 water efficiency demo plots, and provided crop calendars and drip diaries. ELeaf trained staff in GIS/remote sensor measurement and analysis. A baseline study was completed for the Madhu Shree project and 600 farmers were trained in climate-smart agriculture.

Regional Commodity Programmes

  • Central America

    PanameriCaña, a regional sustainable sugar platform, experienced high growth in 2017. It engaged 25 mills in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Haiti. Efforts were focused on building baseline assessments of mill performance, and the development of work plans to close gaps related to sustainability standards. Solidaridad’s team of industry experts continue to support mills and field improvements in environmental, social, labour, occupational safety, health performance, productivity, and smallholder and worker outreach.

  • South America

    The ELO project in Brazil ended its fourth year and resulted in 2,100 farms receiving support through digital solutions and the testing of a new mobile app for extensionists. In Colombia, a partner of the Sustainable Trade Platform, Procaña, adopted digital solutions which prompted an exchange visit from Brazil partners. In addition, Arcor in Argentina became the first company outside of Brazil to certify Bonsucro in the region.

  • South & South-east Asia

    The sugarcane programme continued to build on an aligned agenda driven by a strong business case for producers, processors and end users. The programme allows buyers to move beyond their immediate supply chain and diversify their base of sustainable suppliers. It addresses environmental, economic and social challenges of cane growers by building their capacity. It promotes the adoption of good agricultural practices and water management including irrigation and flooding techniques at a grower level.


The global sugar market is in surplus for the eighth year in a row, with many countries recovering from severe drought. However, most markets are incurring losses and the sector as a whole attracts low levels of investment. The situation is exacerbated by low global sugar prices, as cheap imports weaken domestic prices and leave local economies vulnerable, regardless of whether their markets are protected.

Implementation of the European Union’s sugar reform in October 2017 has hit African, Caribbean and Pacific nations badly, forcing them to diversify and either seek alternative regional markets or cut costs. Sugar’s perceived negative impact on health and proposed tax increases have also gained momentum, aggravating the situation further. However, efficient producers with diverse portfolios (e.g. sugar, ethanol, power and bioproducts) managed to perform better.  

Volatile and declining sugar prices, together with higher input prices, continue to affect farmers’ profitability. Managing the impact on livelihoods depends on their ability to improve productivity, reduce costs and mitigate climatic, biotic and financial risks. Digital solutions are making inroads in agriculture, giving farmers access to better knowledge, inputs, services and finance.    

Solidaridad’s strategic plan has identified these challenges and opportunities in the sugar value chain. Solidaridad plans to address them by developing a shared vision of locally relevant and globally harmonized strategies. Intervention plans include promoting good agricultural practices, building robust infrastructure, creating innovative digital tools, risk mitigation, adaptation and creating value chain partnerships.


Solidaridad strengthened its existing partnerships with supplementary agreements in Brazil and established new partnerships in Central America and India. New projects address various sustainability issues including labour, health, certification, productivity, water quality, digitization of good agricultural practices, access to knowledge and climate change.

Solidaridad Brazil signed an agreement with Raizen to strengthen sustainable cane production and continue to improve it using mobile applications. Solidaridad’s partnerships with farmers’ associations Orplana and Procana received additional funding from the Dutch government. Solidaridad joined the Brazilian Coalition on Climate, Forests and Agriculture and the Leadership Group on Bioenergy.  

In Central America, memoranda of understanding for Bonsucro certification were signed with Grupo Pellas mills, San Antonio in Nicaragua, Chumbagua in Honduras and numerous other mills in Mexico and Central America. In partnership with Coca-Cola through the regional PanameriCaña platform, Solidaridad conducted baseline analysis based on Coca Cola's Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles with 17 sugar mills in Mexico. Solidaridad also developed a pilot project in Mexico for smallholder certification and improvement that will be co-financed by Bayer, sugar industry, and farmer unions CNC and CNPR.

Furthermore, Solidaridad’s existing FDW programme on water quality with TSGro, Water Research Commission and Akwandze continues to support smallholder farmers, while Solidaridad continued to participate in the  SUSFARMS 2018 platform in South Africa, a collaboration with lllovo and WWF. Alongside ongoing FDW projects with IFC/ Coco-Cola/DSCL, a new multi-stakeholder “Madhu Shree” practice for change project was initiated with Olam support from IFC, Pepsico and Mars to promote better farming practices, water conservation measures, better productivity and improvements to farmers’ livelihoods.


Limited availability of natural resources such as land and water remains an issue. The water crisis has become the greatest risk and is aggravated by climate change. As a water-intensive crop, sugarcane is under strain. Furthermore, intense demand can result in “hydro-political" conflict. Smallholder farmers are the most vulnerable. More needs to be produced with less, but productivity is in decline or stagnating, costs are increasing and profitability is falling. Improving soil security and reducing societal issues are essential priorities.

The sector continues to be riddled with human rights and health issues. Education, social exclusion, gender and poverty have a much wider impact than previously understood. Women continue to play an important role at all stages from sowing till harvest. As well as better recognition, there is an increasing need for female-friendly agricultural practices and machinery. Affordable inputs, timely services and relevant knowledge, access to finance and risk mitigation, and ease of data collection are all becoming critical. Change is being driven by a wide range of stakeholders. These efforts have resulted in initial success and adequate learning, but scale, adaptability, affordability and global versus local relevance for smallholders continue to be elusive goals.

Solidaridad’s efforts to reinforce sector transformation require a deeper understanding of issues, challenges and solutions at a local level. Intervention must involve scale and inclusive participation by all parties. Sharing, learning, connecting and transforming national and regional platforms is essential. Multiple strategies and actions are planned to address issues at local, regional and global levels. Solidaridad’s priority is to build value-chain partnerships founded on trust, transparency, commitments and resources.

Dr. Gopinathan MC

International Programme Coordinator, Sugarcane