The Brazilian government and the sugar cane-based ethanol industry are hoping to head off complaints about harmful environmental and labor practices by investing in socially responsible production methods, speakers at the 2nd Ethanol Summit 2009 said on Monday.
Brazil’s Cane Industry Association (Unica), which is sponsoring the biennial event on June 1 to 3 in Sao Paulo, launched its Agora – Agroenergy and the Environment campaign.
Aside from promoting public understanding and use of the biofuel, the campaign will help retrain manual cane cutters, who will be phased out as mechanized harvesting takes hold in the main center-south cane region.
The state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s main cane growing state, has about 800,000 workers in the cane sector.
The work is back-breaking to harvesting soot-covered cane by hand in the sweltering heat of the Brazilian sun. Before workers can even get in to cut, millions of hectares of dense, razor sharp foliage in the cane fields are burned, creating serious respiratory problems from smoke in surrounding communities.
The smoke from cane field burning adds another layer of pollution in some of Brazil’s largest and most developed cities, where pollution from cars and trucks is already a problem.
“It is not enough anymore to have a campaign to develop only ethanol, but (we must) include other sectors,” said Unica’s communications director, Adhemar Altieri.
The social sustainability of biofuel production is increasingly being demanded by importers and inhumane working conditions may eventually be used as grounds for trade barriers against Brazilian ethanol, he added.
The campaign will also try to fight what the cane ethanol sector considers myths about Brazilian biofuels, such as the concern that increased ethanol production contributes to food inflation.
Much of the food-versus-fuel debate has centered on U.S. ethanol production, which uses corn as feedstock in distillation. Increased output of Brazilian ethanol, made from sugar cane, has not lowered sugar production and has had little effect on raising sugar prices in recent years.
Unica will also tout its belief that cane-based ethanol cane can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Between 2004 and 2008, the flex-fuel car fleet (that runs on ethanol or gasoline) in Sao Paulo has sequestered 35 million tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of planting 110 million trees over 20 years,” said Sao Paulo Gov. Jose Serra at the summit.