Sugarcane value chain © R. Carayol


Sugarcane is grown in more than a hundred countries, by independent farmers and agroindustrial firms. While the sugar and rum markets have always been the prime outlets for the crop, it is increasingly the object of interest from pharmaceutical, chemical and energy firms. Farmers will have to satisfy growing, ever more diverse demand. CIRAD and its partners are therefore helping sugarcane value chains evolve and diversify.

The figures for sugarcane

  • 180 million tonnes of sugar produced by industry and by independent producers of all sizes
  • Global demand that could rise to 210 Mt by 2030
  • 80% of sugar comes from sugarcane, 20% from sugar beet
  • Over 100 countries grow sugarcane, on a total of 265 000 km2
  • Brazil is the leading producer, with 62% of global output; more than 50% of its output is destined for fuel ethanol production
  • 1 t of cane = 100 to 150 kg of sugar or 100 litres of fuel ethanol
  • 310 kg of bagasse (the fibrous residue left after crushing) = 130 kwh of electricity
  • 10% of bagasse is used to make paper pulp = 3.2 Mt/year.

The issues

The sustainability of the supply chain is reliant on maintaining the millions of small-scale producers and the economic equilibrium of sugar mills, and regulating international markets. Demand is growing, particularly for energy use (ethanol, electricity) and the extraction of new molecules from biomass. It is leading producers to clear new areas, at the risk of fragmenting natural landscapes (forests, grasslands) and jeopardizing biodiversity conservation. The challenge is to:

  • Choose and develop types of products tailored to the various objectives as regards profitability and sustainability (economic, social, technical, environmental, etc.)
  • Take account of local, regional and global market regulatory mechanisms
  • Foster and promote the positive impacts of sugarcane on the environment, and minimize the adverse effects
  • Support the framing of intensive crop practices through good crop practice certification
  • Use by-products and mill waste (water, vinasse, bagasse, etc.) in plots
  • Promote new crop management sequences to foster new supply chains (eg high-fibre sugarcane, certified organic supply chains)
  • Provide public and private partners with guarantees of plant material quality by means of an international quarantine service
  • Help develop a certified "organic" supply chain.