The Sugar Association of Guatemala (“ASAZGUA”), comprising country’s 11 sugar mills, in collaboration with partner organizations announced in July a clear strategy via its Sugar for Good campaign, which pledges to meet nine sustainability commitments by 2025 with five directly aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The overarching aims are laudable as it seeks to connect the operational benefits of sugar production with economic, environment and social development. Against the backdrop of driving sugar industry’s competitiveness through a continued increase in productivity, innovation and diversification, are measures to support manpower development to help mitigate poverty and foster stewardship of the environment. What is particularly impressive is that the initiative is entirely industry-led.
The 2025 commitments include:
- Develop 10 new varieties of sugarcane to be more effective against climate change and diseases. Climate change volatility informed by extreme weather conditions and changing disease profile in different agro-ecological zones has necessitated the development of new cultivars. The Guatemalan Centre for Sugarcane Research and Training – Cengicaña – is involved in the developing new varieties.
- Improving waste management to reuse 100% of waste from sugarcane and wastewater. Embracing key tenets of the circular economy – recycle, remanufacture and reuse – the industry aims to fully exploit waste streams and monetize them.
- Becoming one of the country’s three main sources of renewable energy. Annually, 7.5 million tonnes of bagasse are fired in boilers to cogenerate power. During the harvest, surplus power exported to the national grid represents up to 32% of the national demand. The installed capacity of the sector is of 630 MW.
- Training one million women in food security and preventative health through the Better Families Program.
- Achieving zero net losses of forest, reducing sugar cane burning by 50% and planting six million trees. Action to safeguard forests and water in the basins where cane is cultivated includes tree planting on a large scale. Gradual mechanization of cane cutting is mainly due to topographic and social aspects. Mechanization is simply not an option in some areas. Further, the compelling reason from the measured transition from manual to mechanized cane-cutting is largely to do with avoiding drastic impact on employment rates and social conditions in the country as many are employed to cut cane manually. As part of its corporate social responsibility, sugar producers in Guatemala have signed up to a variety of policies on supporting cane-cutters that can be independently audited implementation wise.
Luis Miguel Paiz, General Director of ASAZGUA said: “The progress the industry has made since its inception has not only transformed the Guatemalan sugar industry into an economic driver, but a catalyst for sustainable cultivation, a strong advocate for social development and a renewable energy generator. Our agenda for 2025 includes ambitious goals to ensure that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature and to continue to provide employment opportunities at every stage of the sugar development process to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth.”
Guatemala is the fourth largest exporter of sugar worldwide. The country’s sugar sector generates 82,000 direct jobs and 410,000 indirect jobs and generates revenue exceeding US$1 billion.
ASAZGUA partners are Fundazucar (social foundation comprised of sugar producers), Cengicaña (sugarcane research facility), the Private Institute for Climate Change Research (ICC) and Expogranel (sugar export terminal).