Alberto Guerra

Seeding a Sweeter Future – A Food Chain Partnership with Solidaridad

Sugar cane is one of the most important crops in Mexico due to both its economic and social relevance. Our country is the 6th largest producer of sugar cane worldwide, with a production of 56.4 million tons per year and 781 thousand hectares1. In contrast, it is ranked 31st in yield, harvesting only 72 tons per hectare compared to 129 tons per hectare in Guatemala2, which is the number one globally.

Mexico has a special geographical position with a climate that favors the crop, the country is located between Guatemala and the United States; the latter is the largest market of sugar consumption worldwide where Mexico exports a minor volume.

There are 180 thousand sugar cane farmers in Mexico, the vast majority are smallholder farmers with low productivity in extreme poverty3.

Overall, sugar cane smallholder farmers in Mexico are families of 4, where the father cultivates around 4 hectares or less of sugar cane that allows him access to social security. However, they usually have to make up for their low income with a second job - such as carpenter, bricklayer, plumber or other activities - to secure their family wellbeing.

These farmers learned the trade from their fathers who taught them how to grow cane like their forefathers did, without considering the evolution of pests and weeds that reduce the productivity of their hectares each season. The control of weeds is key in the farming of sugar cane, which in the case of small farms in most cases is quite inefficient: they usually apply crop protection products (e.g., herbicides) of low technology and of the greatest toxicity, moreover, at the wrong time, at lower dosage than required, and without using adequate personal protection.

Alberto Guerra
Alberto Guerra
Alberto Guerra
Food Chain Relations Manager, Bayer Mexico

This type of farmer reuses the seeds of sugar cane for over 15 years. Consider, that in order to have a high yield it is recommended to renew every 7 years depending on the seed variety4. At the same time, 64% of these farmers do not have an irrigation system5, thus they depend on seasonal rains. It has been proved that having an irrigation system together with adequate crop protection program significantly increases the productivity per hectare.

The harvest is sold to Sugar Mills through sugar cane associations formed by farmers, who negotiating as a group try to ensure the best possible sale conditions.

Faced with the challenge of low productivity per hectare as well as the social impact this crop has, Bayer is designing a three-year project together with the non-profit organization Solidaridad. The project will aim at developing competences for small sugar cane producers, by promoting the adoption of more sophisticated technology in addition to driving the implementation of good agricultural practices, which will increase their productivity and ultimately improve their quality of life.

Solidaridad is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that has a network of experts in the field of sugar cane production. Currently, these experts provide support to large sugar cane growers in Central America; the project launched together with Bayer will leverage the methodology to create a sustainable production model that will positively change the lives of small sugar cane producers in Mexico.

The plan entails carrying out a survey of field activities among 200 to 300 small sugar cane producers – from seeding to the delivery of their harvest to the Sugar Mill. With this baseline information, we will evaluate the different improvement areas to increase the productivity and the working conditions of farmers in the field.

The results of the survey and the conclusions will be presented to the project committee – made up of Bayer, the Sugar Mill and the Sugarcane Associations – in order to assess and determine the critical actions to be addressed in the improvement plan, for instance seed renewal, irrigation, weed control and pests practices which will render the optimal development of the crop. The plan will also address improvements of the working conditions, such as having shade and rest with hydration sources, using protective equipment during the application of phytosanitary products, etc.

As the growers start to see positive field results, we expect they will realize how the project benefits them directly; through improvements in their agricultural practices and helping them stabilize their income, as well as provide for their family needs and welfare of the communities.

The project will include joint training program for all members of the producer's family to ensure the knowledge of the new agricultural practices and technologies is properly transferred and reaches the next generation. We will monitor the transfer of knowledge during each stage of the crop.

This initiative is an investment in the future to achieve higher sugar cane yield in Mexico. At the end of 3 years we expect to have a model that could be replicated throughout the country, and Mexican smallholder farmers will be able to meet the increasing demand from the large buyers - who are requesting the implementation of better agricultural practices and greater technology in the field - particularly soft drinks manufactures which purchase around 44% of the Mexican sugar production6.


1SAGARPA. (2017). Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación. Retrieved from Atlas Agroalimentario: http://online.pubhtml5.com/clsi/ibhs/
2FAO. (2016). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved from FAOSTATS: http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QC
3CONADESUCA. (2018). Comité Nacional para el Desarrollo Sustentable de Caña de Azúcar.
4Carlos García (2018). REGIONAL PROGRAM MANAGER - PANAMERICAÑA.
5SAGARPA. (2017). Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación. Retrieved from Atlas Agroalimentario: http://online.pubhtml5.com/clsi/ibhs/
6Martínez, V. (2009). Concentra Gobierno la venta de azúcar. Reforma, 12 NEGOCIOS. Retrieved from www.reforma.com

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