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Labor conditions

Worker Training & Job Assistance

Since its introduction in Brazil in the early 16th century, the sugarcane industry has been characterized by a strong dependence on manpower. Similar to any large-scale farming and production operation, sugarcane cultivation, harvesting and processing requires lots of workers and machinery. Brazil’s sugar and ethanol mills employ almost 800,000 workers earning good wages.


For centuries, sugarcane fields around the world have been burned to eliminate sugarcane straw (that is plant tops and leaves), drive away snakes and other potentially poisonous animals, and make it easier for workers to cut the cane by hand. However, technological advances and environmental concerns have increased demand for mechanized harvesting because it eliminates the need for burning the field. Mechanization accounts for more than 95 percent of the harvest in São Paulo and is the only means of harvesting in areas that can be mechanised.

With mechanization advancing and rapidly replacing manual harvesting, the sugarcane industry has focused on retraining workers involved in manual planting and harvesting for new activities.


In 2009, UNICA joined forces with John Deere, Case IH, Solidaridad and Syngenta – all key players in the sugarcane industry supply chain – to create the largest training and re-qualification program (RenovAção Project) for sugarcane industry workers in the world. The program also receives financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank. Some of the highlights of RenovAção Project include:

– Retraining 6,000 workers.

– Providing technical training for sugarcane industry related jobs like harvest operation and mechanical repair.

– Providing training on other skills demanded in the local communities such as sewing, catering and shoe making.

– Customizing training programs for different production areas of the state.

In addition, UNICA member companies have retrained another 22,000 workers replicating the courses offered in the RenovAção project.

The RenovAção Project clearly demonstrates the total synergy and solid commitment of the entire sugarcane production chain with sustainable practices that continue to enhance the labor conditions of sugarcane workers in Brazil.

RenovAção was adopted by the Brazilian federal government and courses are now offered by Pronatec. The FAO publicly praised the program as an example of good synergy between bioenergy production and rural development.

Additional detail on this and other social programs supported by Brazilian sugarcane mills can be found in UNICA’s most recent Sustainability Report.