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Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, almost 35 times the size of the UK. Around 2.5% of its arable land, some 8.1 million hectares, is currently used for sugar-cane production.

Raízen, a joint venture between Shell and Cosan, is one of Brazil’s largest sugar-cane producers. Like other producers it is finding ways to help limit its use of natural resources.

Increasing productivity

In Brazil, as elsewhere, more efficient farming can achieve higher yields from the same area of land. Raising productivity frees up more land for other uses and limits the expansion of the agricultural sector into new areas.

“Brazil has great potential for increased farming productivity,” says Luís Eduardo Fernandes Domarco, agricultural production manager at Raízen’s Costa Pinto mill.

Through technology, such as advanced satellite imaging and better practices such as targeted natural pest control, Raízen is improving its crop yields to produce more from the same area of land.

The mechanisation of the production process enables more cane to be produced from the same area of land – by the end of 2014, 97% of its own harvest of sugar cane had been mechanised. This process helps to reduce greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions caused by manual harvesting.

Saving water

Raízen will continue working to make its processes more efficient. Sugar cane consists of 70% water and needs little artificial irrigation to grow in Brazil thanks to the high annual rainfall. Of the water supply that is needed in the conversion of sugar cane into ethanol, Raízen already recycles around 90% in its 24 mills.

The increasing use of mechanical harvesters is also helping to save water. The harvesters gather little soil when the cane is cut, removing the need for washing. In some of Raízen’s mills fans blow the cane clean instead of using water.

Growing with care

Brazil’s forests and wetlands play a vital role in maintaining the balance of nature: the trees and plants absorb large quantities of CO2 and microorganisms break down waste into nutrients. The main sugar-cane growing areas are hundreds of kilometres from the Amazon rainforest.

Under national land use legislation, the cultivation of sugar cane for ethanol must not compete with land for food crops or displace food crops into sensitive regions. Much of Cosan’s expansion in previous years was into disused grassland.

The development of sugar-cane fields must also avoid land that belongs to indigenous communities. The Constitution of Brazil includes respect for the way of life of indigenous people and their original rights to land.