SWEET STUFF

Colombia 2015 | AGRICULTURE | B2B: SUGAR

Growers in Colombia are counting on representative organizations to advance their causes in local and international markets and to promote new uses for their products.

Carlos Hernando Molina Duran
CARLOS HERNANDO MOLINA DURAN
President of the Board of Directors
Procaña
Leonardo Ariza Ramírez
LEONARDO ARIZA RAMÍREZ
General Manager
Fedepanela

Can you talk about the role that your respective organizations play in promoting agriculture in Colombia?

CARLOS HERNANDO MOLINA DURAN The Colombian Association of Manufacturers and Suppliers of Sugarcane, Procaña, represents its members and the agroindustrial sector of sugarcane in their interactions with the state, assisting also with sourcing the means for sugarcane growers to develop their business, creating jobs and helping to develop and modernize the sector in Colombia. Procaña has the responsibility to encourage producers to work toward improving productivity, and to adopt innovative practices that render them competitive and efficient. We also promote programs and partnerships to take advantage of economies of scale, funding research and development projects that foster the social, economic and environmental development of the sugar cane producing communities in the Valle de Cauca and other regions of Colombia. With regard to generating energy and processing sugarcane as a bio-combustible commodity, we are investing to improve energy efficiency in our sugar cane mills, where we are modernizing our boiler and turbine generator equipment, allowing for more efficient use of the fibers in the combustion process. This line of agro-industrial production is one of the most promising in Colombia today.

LEONARDO ARIZA RAMÍREZ The Federation is committed to research into, as well as the technological, economic, social and environmental development of its panela (brown sugar) sub-sectors. The federation guides public policies, and manages public and private resources in order to improve the quality of life of those families that belong to the federation. There is an outlined vision from 2009 until 2016 that guides all the paneleros in Colombia. Nowadays, there are more than 350,000 families in Colombia whose livelihood depends on the production of panela and we have an important direct and indirect employment generation of 855,365 employees. After coffee, production of this product employs the second highest amount of workers in Colombia's agroindustry. Panela cane is a part of daily consumption, in the form of brown sugar. Today, we have 240,000 acres planted with sugar cane in 27 departments, which encompasses 511 municipalities; this means that about half of all municipalities in the country produce panela. We produce more than 1,200,000 tons of panela annually, and as you can see, this is an important social and economic source of revenue in the regions and its value rises up to $1.2 billion per year.

What are the main challenges faced by Procaña today?

CD Procaña is working to position the image and reputation of the agribusiness of sugar cane, and as opinion makers, we are lobbying for policy and creating projects that positively impact sustainability indicators, and always working to ensure the environmental interests of the whole sector. From the agro-industrial sector of sugar cane, there is a significant commitment to actively reducing climate change.

Can you talk about what makes Panela an important product?

LR Panela does not originate in Colombia, and has its origin in India. Yet in Colombia, the crop is rooted in culture and family tradition, whereby today it is one of the main products in the family diet. Colombia has the number one panela intake per capita in the world and ranks second in panela production, after India. Actually, panela consumption per capita is about 20 kg per year, which shows its importance. 95% of Colombian families consume panela in various forms, basically as a hot or cold beverage, drunk with food, or else served cold with lemon. Panela is also used widely in the treatment of colds. Another way to use panela is grated or powered for healing scars. Doctors used it during the Second World War. Nowadays, many surgeons still use panela to heal scars. It is also used in cosmetic facemasks, and it is starting to appear in cocktails, bread, cakes, and cookies. This product adds flavor to food and is a 100% natural sweetener, and is classified as a functional food in its own right, which provides us with an excellent opportunity as the world increasingly turns to natural products. I know for example, that in Europe 50% of sweeteners are natural. And so, panela has a true opportunity to enter the major markets; indeed, during the past year our exports we have grown 20% to around $1.5 billion dollars.