Fighting climate change to create resilient and thriving communities

By Gavin Dalgleish, Group MD, Illovo Sugar Africa

At Illovo * Sugar Africa we are pleased to be one of the first African sugar businesses commit to a Science Based Target Initiative. Part of our journey in tackling climate change is to create an environment where our communities and local partners are able to thrive. We are already experiencing the negative impacts of climate change, for instance Cyclone Eloise and Tropical Storm Ana created devastation in some of the countries where we grow sugar, at the time damaging infrastructure, reducing crop yields and impacting the daily lives of the many community people that live around our estates.

Despite the climate challenges we are facing and aligned to our Thriving African Community purpose to create shared economic value in the markets where we operate, we continue to innovate and focus our efforts in our fields and our plants, and when transporting our products to our customers and consumers. Our footprint and African essence positions us well to lead the way in social upliftment and through it, to close the social inequality gap. Across the board, we have many existing projects to improve for example, national energy security in the countries where we operate and in distant rural areas, to provide access to clean water, education and healthcare where local medical facilities are absent. Social equity in our local communities to foster community resilience and support of local economies will always be a priority – a deliberate approach, targeted on consolidating our resources to maximise our potential impact.

Just some of these efforts and innovations from an environmental point of view range from the installation of a crop irrigation system in Malawi that remotely collects sensed data, enabling teams to make informed decisions that improve the use and efficiency of water and power. At Kilombero in Tanzania, our teams are trialling mechanical green cane harvesting – a practice whereby sugar cane is harvested using a chopper harvester without burning the field. This pilot project is not only aimed at reducing our carbon emissions through reducing burning, but also building a more resilient crop through healthier soils. The residue remaining on the field after crop removal forms a mulch that protects the bare soil from erosion, reduces moisture loss and improves soil organic matter. And what’s more, the fibrous residue known as bagasse, that remains after the extraction of juice from the crushed stalks of sugar cane is used to provide up to 70% of the Illovo’s annual power requirement. Alongside this, we have deep-seated experience in collecting, moving and making use of large volumes of mechanically harvested cane trash to supplement boiler feedstock. Today, we also supply some 60 gigawatt of surplus power annually to national grids, predominately in Eswatini.

At the Phata Co-Operative in Malawi, small-holder cane farmers join up their land into a shared block farm under a co-operative grower model which pays dividends, including the opportunity to diversify into market garden, aquaculture and rice growing enterprises which create revenue outside of the proceeds received for their cane

To amplify our social development commitments, it’s also in Eswatini at our Ubombo Sugar mill that we have partnered with the St. Philips Roman Catholic Church to develop 427 hectares of its land to irrigation in order to successfully cultivate sugar cane. The profits of the partnership accruing to the Church allow it to invest in a range of poverty alleviation projects which bring meaningful benefits to the people who live in the district.

An additional positive is that these neighbouring communities also benefit from the newly-created job opportunities and from reliable and clean water supply installed for the project. In Malawi, we support the Phata Co-operative – a grower model that gives small-holder growers an opportunity to partner with Illovo Sugar Malawi while keeping land ownership in their hands. Meanwhile in Zambia, we also supply raw water to the nearby town of Mazabuka and safe drinking water and sanitation to over 16,000 residents of the sugar estate.

As global leaders meet at COP27 in Egypt this week to set out the pathway to tackle today’s climate crisis, a spotlight will be shone on African businesses, like ourselves, to showcase some of the progress and innovations that have been made in recent years. These are just some of the recent examples we’ve made. We will continue to scrutinise our operations to find where we can improve our water and carbon savings further; we’re always thinking about how we can play our part locally, and improve the lives of those in and around our operations, aligned to our Group’s Thriving African Community purpose. Africa has a key role to play in tackling climate change and social inequality, and we are in a position to make a significant difference, together with our many business partners.

* AB Sugar has committed to setting a near-term science-based emission reduction target in consultation with The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), (AB Sugar | News | Another step forward in AB Sugar’s decarbonisation journey – committing to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi)). AB Sugar’s near-term science-based emission reduction target will cover our group of businesses which includes Illovo Sugar Africa, British Sugar and Azucarera