Sugarcane is an example of a versatile and renewable crop that can be used as a clean source of energy and as a raw material for production of multiple products. Today Brazil is the world's largest sugarcane producer. The move to modernization of the country's 430 active mills, which continue adopted new technologies for planting the sugarcane, to the optimization and production of sugar, ethanol and bioelectricity. This has strengthened an industry that is recognized internationally for innovation and production efficiency.

To learn more about sugarcane in Brazil visit the Sugarcane Industry Association's (UNICA) website:

  • Where is the cultivation

    Brazil is the world's largest sugarcane producer, accounting 490 million tons of sugarcane per year (2011/2012 year crop)*. Around 90% of Brazil's sugarcane is cultivated in the Center-South region, especially in the state of São Paulo, which represents 60% of the total, while the remainder is produced in the country's Northeast region.

    To guarantee that the sugarcane culture does not threaten major biodiversity areas, which are protected under Brazilian law, new plantation areas must respect the Sugarcane Agroecological Zoning in effect since 2009. This is the case of the Amazon region, whose climate is in fact unsuited for sugarcane growing and is not included in the Sugarcane Agroecological Zoning permitted areas.

    The same occurs with other major biomes, such as Pantanal. Thus, mills do not receive operating licenses and have no activities in these regions being the major sugarcane production regions located more than 2,500 kilometers away from the Amazon Region.

    *Source: UNICA (Sugarcane Industry Association):

    Download - Sugarcane Agroecological Zoning

  • Land availability

    Brazil has conditions that are especially favorable for agriculture and sugarcane production. The country has continental dimensions and boasts approximately 330* million hectares of arable land, which are equivalent to 38.8% of its total area. In 2010, only 2.8% (or around 9.5 million hectares) of the country's arable land was used to cultivate sugarcane with approximately 50% of this amount used to produce ethanol and 50% to produce sugar.

    For comparison, we have the following data related with land use in Brazil: soybean plantation occupies 24.2* million hectares, corn uses 13.8* million hectares and livestock 172* million hectares.

    The expansion of areas to plant sugarcane should follow the Sugarcane Agro-Ecological Zoning and it is expected to take place mainly in the South-Central region of Brazil, which already accounts for about 60% of production and where it still can be verified the existence of degraded areas and low productivity grassland.

    Sources: IBGE and CONAB | Elaboration: FIESP-DEAGRO

  • Professionalization of the sector

    Brazil's sugar and ethanol industry employs around 800,000 people. Adopting modern agricultural practices has also had important impacts on them by establishing new working condition standards, which are regulated by rigorous labor laws combating child labor and work conditions similar to slavery.

    In 2009, the government, industry leaders and trade unions signed the National Commitment to Improve Labor Conditions on Sugarcane Plantations, which is a set of 30 labor practices that guide/regulate labor relations in the industry, safeguard the dignity and protect the rights of these workers.

    These practices include hiring workers without any intermediaries; greater transparency in the calculation of compensation; support for temporary migrant workers; improvements in the conditions related to workplace health and safety, transportation and food; promoting the activities of trade unions and collective bargaining; and corporate responsibility actions in the community.

    On its own initiative, the industry is also investing in technical training programs for workers such as the Program to Re-qualify Sugarcane Workers (RenovAção), which trains and re-qualifies 7,000 workers and members of the communities each year. The program primarily targets sugarcane cutters, whose work is being substituted by mechanized processes for planting and cutting the sugarcane.

    Download - RenovAção - Professional training program
  • Water consumption

    Sugarcane cultivation in Brazil is almost never irrigated, since the water requirements during the agricultural phase are supplied naturally by the rainfall in producing regions. The use of water is concentrated in the industrial phase, mainly in sugar production, and on a very low scale.

    Many mills adopt a fertigation system where the vinasse, which is a co-product of the ethanol production rich in organic nutrients and water, is brought back to the cane field. This organic fertilization reduces the need to use chemical fertilizers and therefore helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Energy from the bagasse

    A large part of sugarcane mills in Brazil are self-sufficient in terms of their energy needs, due to the use of sugarcane bagasse as a raw material for the production of energy. The sugarcane bagasse is a co-product of the milling process through which it is separated from the cane juice, rich in sugars.

    Bagasse is used to fuel the boilers that generate steam and make the power generating turbines trigger. This energy fuels the plant itself, and when there is a surplus it is sent to the local power grid and sold to supply cities.

    The growing production of bioelectricity from bagasse combined with the broad use of ethanol make sugarcane the second-largest energy source in Brazil's energy matrix, which is considered the cleanest in the world. This gives Brazil a leadership role in pursuing low-carbon solutions to combat climate change.