More than 30,000 cane growers in the Rayong region of Thailand comprise the bulk of the Mitr Phol supply chain, the fourth largest sugar producer in the world and a supplier to Corbion since 2007. In 2016, the company became the first in Thailand and the second in all of Asia to be certified by Bonsucro. However, the business's long-term productivity and sustainability are constrained by the output and practices of its farmers, so five years ago, it launched a “smart farming” project to help farmers modernize, so minimizing their costs and achieving better crop yields. The “Mitr Phol Modern Farm” is a demonstration farm that allows sugar cane farmers to see modern growing methods and technologies in action, and learn how to implement them in their own operations.
Mitr Phol's suppliers are independent cane growers. To ensure widespread adoption of modern practices, two key challenges needed to be overcome: considerable financial investment and a resistance to change. Mitr Phol took two strategic measures. Firstly, a financing program was instituted, with terms dependent on the scale of each farmer's operations. This enables smaller farmers to obtain a group loan with neighbours and share the equipment they purchased. Second, after successfully training "early adopters" at the demonstration farm, Mitr Phol recruited those farmers to train other growers.
More and more farmers are embracing modern practices, growing more cane and contributing to their own growth as well as that of Mitr Phol. Sustainability improvements are visible in many areas too. Adjusting the space between sugar cane plants and better controlling truck traffic reduces crop losses. Techniques for maintaining loosened soil, and a GPS system for controlling large agricultural machines are being deployed. Water use is more efficient and when not growing sugar cane, farmers grow legumes to cut pesticide use and improve soil quality. Soil moisture is being better retained by leaving cane leaves on the ground instead of burning them; an action which also reduces global warming.
Mitr Phol benchmarks best practices in other cane-growing countries and so incorporates some of the industry's most efficient production methods into its teaching at the demonstration farm. Its achievements in helping growers cut their production costs were recognised by the Bonsucro Sustainability Award in 2015. This recognition and certification are sources of great pride at Mitr Phol, and a motivation for continued improvement.
With Corbion working to drive demand for responsibly produced cane sugar, and Mitr Phol supporting farmers' efforts to meet that demand, the two companies are strengthening a crucial aspect of Corbion's overall sustainability efforts. Together, we are making an impact at the point where Corbion's sustainability story actually begins.
Watch our short film, part of a docuseries released by Reuters, in which we explore the Mitr Phol supply chain in more detail – as well as how teamwork is so crucial to tackling climate change.