Marcos Jank, president of the Sugarcane Union Industry (Unica) in Brazil recently said that, "We're ready to discuss an environmental, social and economic certification of ethanol." São Paulo's ethanol industry is ready to introduce new methods for sugarcane production, such as better mechanization in order to avoid side effects from harvesting. How does this help green up ethanol production? Well, mechanization, some claim, avoids the need for burning after harvest (a very polluting activity) and will surely eradicate bad labor conditions (death by exhaustion is the most common cause of casualties in this industry).

Brazil is one of the leaders of the ethanol industry and is eager to increase its exports. However, environmentalists and human rights groups have always kept an eye on how that ethanol is being produced. That's why the state of São Paul has started a plan called "Green protocol," which officials at 129 of the 156 ethanol manufacturing plants in the state have already signed. This plan includes mechanization of harvesting as one of the keys for making ethanol more sustainable. The target date for this plan is 2017, although nationwide legislation states that it should be in 2031.

Mechanization won't come cheap: it's estimated that 190,000 jobs might be lost when machines are used to harvest sugarcane, but the expectations are that 70,000 new jobs to work with the new tractors will be created. Current work conditions for sugarcane harvesting are claimed to be very bad. São Paulo's Ministry of Employment is currently investigating 19 deaths related to exhaustion and is also prosecuting plantations that don't offer minimum working conditions such as access to water and security equipment. Currently, every harvester needs to cut from 12 to 15 tons of sugarcane a day. This usually means working 12-hour shifts, cutting 78,000 times with a sickle and walking more than 8.8 km (5.5 miles).

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[Source: AFP via Econoticias]



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