Empowering smallholder sugarcane farmers in Thailand

Bonsucro Impact Stories

Photos & videos © Joe Woodruff / Bonsucro

Smallholder farmers worldwide make a vital contribution to the products we consume, growing the raw materials for everything from food to clothing. Yet many smallholders live in poverty, lacking access to the knowledge, finance and resources they need to adopt sustainable practices, raise productivity, address working conditions or improve their livelihoods. Many have farmed in the same way for generations, and may be cautious or unwilling to make changes, fearful that it may affect their ability to make a living.

Sugarcane is no different.

In Thailand, more than 300,000 smallholder farmers cultivate 100 million tonnes of sugarcane annually, providing 5.5% of the world’s sugar supply. They face challenges including water scarcity, soil degradation and disease pressure, all of which could be intensified by climate change. For sugarcane mills keen to improve production practices in response to growing customer demand for sustainability, helping smallholders to make changes or follow a common set of rules is tough. From record-keeping to a lack of clarity around land titles and a huge diversity of farming practices, driving change in a practical and commercially viable way has so far proved elusive.

To help overcome these challenges in a way that benefits smallholders, Bonsucro introduced the Bonsucro Production Standard for Smallholder Farmers (Smallholder Standard) in 2018. Thailand’s Saraburi Sugar Company, a mill owned by sugar-producing giant Thai Ruang Roong (TRR) Group, has since become the first mill globally to help smallholders achieve Bonsucro certification to the new Standard by promoting capacity building among small groups of farmers and encouraging more farmers to help accelerate the uptake of good practices.

We travelled to Thailand’s Saraburi province, 150km from Bangkok, to find out how smallholders who have adopted the Smallholder Standard are benefitting from growing sugarcane sustainably.

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