Ethanol Not Sufficient to Heal Sugarcane’s Environmental Legacy in Colombia

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One phase of Colombia's sugarcane agroindustrial production consists of burning bagasse to generate biofuels. In the picture, workers arrange sugarcane waste in a field in the municipality of El Cerrito, in the southwestern department of Valle del Cauca. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

One section of Colombia’s sugarcane agroindustrial manufacturing consists of burning bagasse to generate biofuels. Within the image, employees organize sugarcane waste in a subject within the municipality of El Cerrito, within the southwestern division of Valle del Cauca. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

BOGOTA, Mar 17 2022 (IPS) – As a customer drives throughout the plains of the division of Valle del Cauca in southwestern Colombia, inexperienced carpets dominate the view: sugarcane fields which were right here for the reason that space received its title.

The lengthy tentacles of filth roads draw the customer into the thicket of golden-crested flowering inexperienced vegetation, which shall be reduce to floor degree in just a few months, the beginning of an industrial course of and the restart of an annual agricultural cycle.

However this crop has left a long-lasting and damaging imprint on the soils, among the most fertile on this South American nation of 51.7 million folks.

Irene Vélez, an educational on the public University del Valle, mentioned legislative adjustments and the opening of the market to imported sugar have led to the shift from sweetener to gas.

“One of many penalties of this course of is the growth of the agricultural frontier to different areas of the nation, as a result of the land is cheaper and there’s a completely different system of relations between landowners and the agro-industrial sector,” she informed IPS from the Portuguese metropolis of Coimbra, the place she is doing post-doctoral research.

Together with sugar and molasses for industrial consumption, sugarcane additionally gives ethanol or ethyl alcohol, which by regulation has been blended since 2005 in a quantity of 10 % per liter of gasoline in Colombia.

Proponents argue that this biofuel helps curb dependence on oil, and improves the octane score of gasoline by oxygenating, which reduces city air pollution.

However in distinction, a car consumes extra blended gas for a similar journey attributable to its decrease calorific worth than gasoline and, the upper the combination, the upper the emission of the carcinogens formaldehyde and acetaldehyde and ozone, particularly in winter, which trigger respiratory issues, in response to a 2007 study by researchers at Stanford College in the US.

Colombia is the world’s fifteenth largest sugarcane producer, supplying 22.87 million tons of milled sugarcane per 12 months, in response to knowledge from 2021, when it fell by a slight three % in comparison with the earlier 12 months, in response to knowledge from the Sugarcane Association (Asocaña), which teams sugarcane producers.

In parallel, the nation refined 396 million liters of ethanol in 2021, 0.5 % lower than the earlier 12 months. However home manufacturing doesn’t meet demand, so final 12 months it imported a further 64 million liters, principally from the US, a drop of virtually 400 % in comparison with a 12 months earlier, in response to Asocaña.

Colombia is the third largest ethanol producer within the area, after Brazil and Argentina. This South American nation extracts ethanol from sugarcane and biodiesel from palm oil. The business enjoys tax exemptions and subsidies, because of the Sugar Price Stabilization Fund, which has been in operation since 2000.

The expansion of sugarcane cultivation in Colombia has its epicenter in the Cauca River valley, in the southwest of the country, and has left a trail of water exploitation, reduction of biodiversity and pollution from the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, which is not compensated by the use of part of the crop to produce biofuels. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The growth of sugarcane cultivation in Colombia has its epicenter within the Cauca River valley, within the southwest of the nation, and has left a path of water exploitation, discount of biodiversity and air pollution from using pesticides and artificial fertilizers, which isn’t compensated by way of a part of the crop to supply biofuels. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Problematic growth

The looks of ethanol on the power scene prolonged the sugarcane frontier in Colombia and fortified the vertical integration of the business.

Within the Cauca River valley, the place a lot of the nation’s crop is concentrated, sugarcane covers greater than 225,000 hectares, which “is near the overall space obtainable for planting sugarcane” within the area, in response to Asocaña.

There are 14 sugar mills working within the space, which immediately domesticate 25 % of the fields, whereas shopping for the remainder of the cane from some 2,750 producers. The typical dimension of the three,300 farms that offer the mills is 63 hectares. As well as, they function 12 power cogeneration services, powered by sugarcane bagasse.

However that growth has left social, environmental, financial and cultural impacts on native communities, says the report “The Green Monster. Perspectives and Recommendations from the Black Communities of Northern Cauca, Colombia regarding the Sugar Sector in Colombia”, revealed in June 2021 by the non-governmental organizations Palenke Alto Cauca-PCN and the UK-based Forest Peoples Programme.

The primary impacts embrace the results on soil, rivers and groundwater attributable to using pesticides akin to glyphosate, soil compaction brought on by the intensive use of agricultural equipment, soil erosion, polluting emissions as a result of apply of burning sugarcane fields earlier than replanting, deforestation arising from the rise within the space planted, and the monopolization of water sources.

The expansion of large-scale sugarcane plantations in Valle del Cauca has resulted in lack of land, harm to water assets, well being issues, displacement and violence.

Carlos Molina, director of the El Hatico nature reserve in the municipality of El Cerrito, in the southwestern Colombian department of Valle del Cauca, stands in the middle of a cut sugarcane field on his farm. He advocates the transition from conventional sugarcane to an organic crop that contributes to the use of biofuels for energy decarbonization. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Carlos Molina, director of the El Hatico nature reserve within the municipality of El Cerrito, within the southwestern Colombian division of Valle del Cauca, stands in the course of a reduce sugarcane subject on his farm. He advocates the transition from typical sugarcane to an natural crop that contributes to using biofuels for power decarbonization. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In search of extra sustainable sugarcane manufacturing

Carlos Molina, authorized consultant and one of many house owners of the El Hatico firm, mentioned it’s potential to reverse the harm brought on by sugarcane, as he gestured to the encircling fields.

“If we don’t restore now, we’re going to run out of gas. In the event that they don’t change issues, producers are going to go bankrupt. The answer is to indicate the options and provide incentives for transformation,” he informed IPS throughout a tour of his farm’s sugarcane crop within the municipality of El Cerrito, in Valle del Cauca.

El Hatico is a 285-hectare farm, of which 110 hectares are used for natural sugarcane manufacturing and 76 hectares for 245 grazing dairy cows. Due to the farm’s sustainability, it has achieved nature reserve standing.

Confronted with the lack of earnings attributable to soil deterioration, within the early Nineties the house owners started a shock remedy program to desert irrigation, pesticides and artificial fertilizers and introduce pure fertilizers and different agroecological practices.

“We made an abrupt transition and that value us 30 % of our manufacturing, then we recovered. Sustainable administration and value-added enhance yields,” mentioned Molina, who belongs to the eighth technology of sugarcane growers in his household.

For instance, a standard hectare requires about 180 kilograms of nitrogen and 12 billion cubic meters of water per 12 months, whereas an natural farm wants a lot much less.

The authorized framework for biofuels started in Colombia in 2001 with laws on their use and the creation of incentives for his or her manufacturing, use, advertising and marketing and consumption. In 2004, one other regulation expanded the circumstances to stimulate the manufacturing and advertising and marketing of biofuels of plant and animal origin to acquire biodiesel.

Thus, the introduction of the mix started in 2005 with the E10 mixture, whereas the manufacturing of biodiesel started in 2008, with the addition of 5 % of this gas.

That very same 12 months, the National Council for Economic and Social Policy, which brings collectively seven ministries and the governmental scientific sector, issued guidelines to promote the sustainable production of biofuels within the nation, proposing methods to this finish.

In consequence, sugarcane refineries for biofuels began up in 2006, six of which function in Valle del Cauca and one within the central division of Meta.

In 2013, the mix of ethanol per liter of gasoline elevated to 10 % and that of biodiesel to 12 %.

A sugarcane plantation in the municipality of El Cerrito, in the department of Valle del Cauca, in southwestern Colombia. Cutting, slashing and burning are the three steps of cultivation: cutting the sugarcane, harvesting the crop and setting fire to the residues, a practice that is harmful to the health of the soil and the air. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A sugarcane plantation within the municipality of El Cerrito, within the division of Valle del Cauca, in southwestern Colombia. Reducing, slashing and burning are the three steps of cultivation: slicing the sugarcane, harvesting the crop and setting fireplace to the residues, a apply that’s dangerous to the well being of the soil and the air. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Execs and cons

The shift of sugarcane in the direction of ethanol manufacturing is paradoxical, because the crop causes environmental impacts however the gas reduces emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the gasoline generated by human actions that’s liable for world warming.

Sugarcane ethanol reduces 74 % of polluting emissions, in comparison with corn and canola ethanol – 45 % and 25 %, respectively – in response to the 2012 examine “Life Cycle Assessment of the Biofuels Production Chain in Colombia“, sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank and the nationwide Ministry of Mines and Power.

By regulation, ethanol emissions have had limits within the nation since 2017. Knowledge from the non-governmental Sugarcane Research Center for six mills point out that the common in 2016 was 551 kilograms of CO2 per cubic meter of gas and 558 in 2017.

These outcomes had been beneath the regulatory ceiling of 924 kilograms for 2017 and 889 for the next 12 months. In 2021, the ceiling stood at 780 kilograms.

The sugarcane manufacturing course of generates the best quantity of air pollution, with 249 kilos of CO2, adopted by planting and harvesting (181 kilos), effluent therapy (89) and transportation to mixing facilities (39).

Biofuels, a part of the NDC

In its 2020 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) replace, Colombia pledged to cut back its emissions by 51 % by 2030, down from 258 million tons of CO2 in 2015, the bottom 12 months, to 169 million tons, primarily by combating deforestation.

Inside this voluntary purpose, Colombia pledged that at the least 20 % of its power combine can be made up of biofuels by that 12 months, topic to monetary assist from industrialized international locations.

The unbiased Local weather Motion Tracker calls the NDC “extremely inadequate”, as different approaches are wanted, particularly in power and transportation. Though transportation accounts for 12 % of the nation’s whole emissions, mitigation actions, such because the deployment of electrical vehicles, are inadequate.

The Colombian authorities tasks stable ethanol demand between 2022 and 2025, of about 60,000 barrels per day of the biofuel.

“The agroecological transition may very well be accomplished in three years, with none downside,” mentioned Molina.

However Vélez disagreed. “It’s related to an agro-technological bundle that entails improved seeds that want pesticides, fertilizers and privatized seeds from transnational firms. There isn’t any level in switching from sugarcane to natural pineapple, for instance. If land grabbing continues, we’re not producing the required transition,” he mentioned.


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