Coalition for Sustainable Sugarcane pilot in Mexico leads to smallholder certification

6th October 2022

Mill Tala, which is a part of Grupo Azucarero Mexico (GAM) in Mexico, has expanded its scope of Bonsucro certification to include 25 smallholder producers. The achievement is due to a pilot program that forms part of a Coalition for Sustainable Sugarcane in Mexico – a collaboration between PepsiCo, Grupo Azucarero de México, Proforest, Bonsucro and One Peterson.

Mexico is one of the top 10 sugar-producing countries in the world and one of the main sugar exporting and consuming countries in Latin America – and smallholders are responsible for the majority of national production. While the crop provides many benefits to growers and local communities, it can also be associated with social and environmental risks and presents challenges such as low productivity, limited capacities around sustainable production, and a lack of financing to adopt new technologies.  To address the challenges and realise opportunities, there’s a need for partnership to address productivity, building financial capacity of smallholder producers and adopting technologies.

Out of this context, the Coalition for Sustainable Sugarcane was developed to promote sustainability in the sugarcane sector and address key sustainability challenges. This Coalition focuses on the respect for human rights across the supply chain and the implementation of regenerative agricultural practices to improve producer livelihoods and promote smallholder inclusion within sustainable supply chains.

In 2019, GAM certified Tala mill and its own plantations against the Bonsucro Production Standard, with the support of PepsiCo. Since 2019, this partnership has actively engaged with smallholders in Tala’s supply base by piloting the Bonsucro Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers. The pilot program includes training Tala’s technical personnel and smallholder farmers.  It also disseminates learnings from the pilot with the wider Mexican sector.

Sarah Mercadante, Global Lead for Sustainable Sugarcane at PepsiCo said, “PepsiCo is committed to continuing to sustainably source 100% of the cane sugar for our business.  We recognise that achieving systemic sustainability requires a comprehensive, inclusive effort from all actors and view the Sugarcane Coalition in Mexico as a vehicle for transparent, open dialogue with our partners about the challenges and for the joint creation of actionable strategies for delivering outcomes for people and planet.”

The scope of Tala’s Bonsucro certification has now been expanded to include the 25 smallholder farmers that participated in the pilot program. This marks a great step towards the promotion of sustainable sugarcane in Mexico and is especially remarkable when taking into consideration that this achievement took place during the coronavirus pandemic. The smallholder producers in this project are located in 10 municipalities in Jalisco, within a 70km radius of the mill. These certified producers belong to the Union Local de Productores de Azucar (ULPCA) and Confederación Nacional de Productores Rurales (CNPR).

Rocio Piedra, Sustainability Manager at GAM told us how, “GAM is committed to sustainability in its operations, from the mill to the field. Bonsucro is a key achievement for the group and has been a pillar for the operation of Tala and the vision for the other mills.”

Representatives from Tala and Proforest presented details of their certification journey at our event, Conferencia Bonsucro México in June. The audience loved hearing first-hand experience of certifying smallholder farmers, the challenges and the positive changes that have been made. A summary of the event is available here.  The Coalition will continue to identify opportunities to share the learnings with the entire Mexican sugarcane sector to help strengthen the local capacities of the sector and mills.

The Coalition views collaboration with stakeholders across the supply chain as key to driving the systematic changes needed in the sector, such as: payment mechanisms for cane cutters; ensuring access to health and safety measures in work environments, providing social security to all workers; addressing child labour, and improving yields and livelihoods.

Esteban Figueroa, Principal Project Manager at Proforest explained that “the collaboration of GAM and PepsiCo has inspired other actors of the supply chain to collaborate, and broadly speaking, has catalysed the collaboration between actors of the supply chain, including buyers, mills, the government, and farmer’s associations. This collaboration has demonstrated that certification, both for mills and independent smallholders, is possible for Mexico, and this is a snowball effect that will soon give results in the sector”.

Working together in a multistakeholder coalition is a powerful way to demonstrate the value of sustainable production and signal the importance of sustainability to the sector. Moving forward, the Coalition aims to scale up the engagement with smallholder farmers and continue to drive a continuous improvement approach, including a focus on improving health and safety and raising awareness of the importance of proper use and management of agrochemicals.

PepsiCo and Proforest are sponsoring Bonsucro Global Week in Brazil in October. If you want to find out more about the Coalition for Sustainable Sugarcane, join us at the event. Full details and options for registration are on our website.