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October 24, 2011

Sustainable Orange Production Could be a Model for Brazil

Many environmental organizations are focusing their efforts on promoting sustainable agricultural production in Brazil. The common goal of these organizations is to responsibly increase the productivity of existing agricultural production in order to reduce the need for clearing new land, especially in the Amazon Region. Over 60% of Brazil's land mass is still covered by native vegetation, but some of that vegetation is being cleared as agricultural expansion consumes more land for increased production. Brazil is the focus for many of these organizations because it is one of the few remaining regions of the world where there is ample land and a suitable climate for agricultural expansion. The trick is how to develop that land in a sustainable and responsible manner.

A model on how this might be accomplished is the Cutrale orange juice company in the interior of the state of Sao Paulo. The company is one of the largest orange juice exporters in Brazil and it has just been certified by the Rainforest Alliance as meeting the goals of sustainability. Some of the production practices that helped the company achieve this certification include: preserving existing flora and fauna, utilization of green fertilizer, controlling soil erosion and maintaining soil fertility, reforestation with native species, conserving biodiversity, and protecting endangered ecosystems.

To achieve this certification, the orange juice plantation and processing facilities were monitored by the Institute of Management and Certification of Forestry and Agriculture, which is a Brazilian organization used by the Rainforest Alliance to evaluate the potential for certification. This organization has been able to document and certify 130,000 hectares of agricultural production in Brazil including: orange production, coffee, coco, and sugarcane production.

To achieve this certification, in addition to sustainable agricultural practices, the agricultural enterprise must protect the forests, rivers, and soil and provide the workers a safe and dignified work environment with a just wage and access to education and health benefits for the workers and their families.

In addition to sustainable production practices, Cutrale has incorporated these principals into their processing facilities as well. In the process of making juice concentrate, the water that is removed from the juice is treated and then reutilized in cleaning and processing the fruit. For every one liter of water the company removes from its property to process the fruit, one and a half liters of water is returned. The company treats 1,000 cubic meters of waste water per hour in its own waste treatment facility, which has the capacity of treating the amount of waste water produced from a city of half a million residents.

The processing facility also utilizes renewable energy to run its operations. The electricity used to run the plant comes from the burning of sugarcane waste from nearby sugar/ethanol mills. This of course reduces the amount of fossil fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.