Sugar and the Environment - Encouraging Better Management Practices in Sugar Production and Processing

Posted on June, 22 2005

Encouraging better management practices in sugar production and processing

More than 145 million tonnes of sugar (sucrose) is produced per year in about 120 countries; open pan (artisanal) sugar production in Asia probably adds more than ten million tonnes to this total. Annual consumption is expanding each year by about two million tonnes. Around 60-70 percent is produced from sugar cane with the remainder from sugar beet. 

The cultivation and processing of sugar produce environmental impacts through the loss of natural habitats, intensive use of water, heavy use of agro-chemicals, discharge and runoff of polluted effluent and air pollution. This leads to the degradation of wildlife, soil, air and water where sugar is produced and of downstream ecosystems.

Although many of the environmental impacts of cane and beet cultivation are generic to agriculture, some impacts are distinct, particularly in their severity. Impacts relating to irrigation of sugar cane and pollution runoff are of particular concern.

To evaluate the issues concerning the sustainability of sugar, CABI-Bioscience and WWF carried out a review of the environmental impacts of sugar. This briefing paper draws on the CABI-WWF study, as well as other sources.

The adoption of Better Management Practices (BMPs) requires support at several levels. This includes changes to national and international policies, investment in appropriate irrigation infrastructure, and a stronger sustainability commitment from the sugar and food industries.

Sustainability does not necessarily mean reduced productivity or profits; indeed measures needed to reduce environmental impacts will often also provide economic benefits for farmers and mills. This provides an opportunity to reconcile environmental and social needs with the long-term development of the sugar industry.

WWF considers that concerted action is required among all stakeholders in sugar production if a more sustainable future is to be guaranteed for this ubiquitous product.

This paper highlights:

* The environmental impacts of sugar production

* Farming and processing practices that cause the impacts.

* Better Management Practices that can be used to reduce these impacts to acceptable levels.
Sugar and the Environment