Preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the Mexican sugarcane sector

1st December 2020

At the beginning of March, many cases of COVID-19 were identified in several Latin American countries, including Mexico. The arrival of the disease represented a new and enormous challenge for the care of health and safety for those working in agriculture.

There was a lack of efficient protocols in workplaces as well as little infrastructure and trained personnel in rural communities to face the emergency. By mid-June the virus was already spreading in agricultural and sugarcane communities. Given the imminent start of harvesting activities at the end of the year, the health risks of migrant and seasonal workers became clear.

To contribute efforts to the fight against COVID-19, among sugarcane workers in Mexico, Bonsucro, La Isla Network, Ingenio San Antonio de Nicaragua and the Campos de Esperanza programme of World Vision Mexico, which is funded by the US Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), joined forces to create training materials to prevent COVID-19 in sugarcane fields.

This powerful collaboration created of a series of resources for sugar mills and sugarcane farms in Mexico to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. In addition, there are two guides to help increase the capabilities of those managing groups of workers. The resources were launched through a series of online training sessions for the whole Mexican sugar sector attended by more than 400 people.

The project was designed and rolled out quickly in response to the pandemic. Each organisation made its expertise available.

World Vision used its close connection with workers, farmers, and factories in Mexico to implement Health and Safety Occupational (OSH) plans. The team also obtained key information from the fields to advise the sector on child labour and OSH.

Ingenio San Antonio (ISA) developed a robust OSH programme to prevent COVID-19 and chronic kidney disease as non-traditional origin (CKDnt) among its field workers. The mill is committed to sharing its experience and achievements. Denis Chavarría from ISA brought lessons learned from his efforts to address COVID-19 in Nicaragua. He also spoke at Bonsucro’s webinar on the sugarcane industry’s reaction to COVID-19.

La Isla Network (LIN) offered valuable contributions from extensive experience in working with sugar mills and field programme managers to provide key recommendations of how to prevent COVID-19. LIN’s experts in epidemiology and public and occupational health, Ilana Weiss, Ineke Wesseling and Esteban Arias were essential in the development of the materials, spending time to review and offer feedback before the resources were shared.

Bonsucro provided the global platform to engage stakeholders from across the sugar value chain and share the resources. It also maintains the global industry benchmark performance through its Production Standard which can be used as a basis for incorporating best practices and allows verification of the sustainability through third party auditors.

The development of these materials was led by Oscar Castillo, director of Campos de Esperanza and Magnolia Matus, specialist in occupational health, in a participatory process with different actors of the Mexican industry including producer organizations as the farming associations, CNPR and UNPCA, Mexican mills, the National Committee for Sustainable Development for Sugar Cane (CONADESUCA) and the national chamber of the sugar industry (CNIAA).

If you would like to access these resources, please email our regional coordinator for Mexico, Benjamin Sandoval. Please note that these resources are currently only available in Spanish.