COVER STORY

“Sugarcane Eco-Industry”: No Waste and Against Global Warming with More Income

“Sugarcane” is an economic crop for the agricultural sector and a product for the sugar industry, including various other by-products as it is important to the present and future economy from the local to the global levels. Thailand has a sugar export value of more than 100,000 million baht per year, creating jobs for its agricultural sector of more than 400,000 sugarcane growers in over 12 million Rai land of sugarcane plantations nationwide. 

However, labor shortage for harvesting, high wages, and needs for speed of cane cutting make the farm owner burn sugarcane leaves before harvesting. In addition to weight loss and reduced sweetness quality in sugarcane itself, organic substances in the soil will be affected. More importantly, air pollution is caused by sugarcane leaf burning. 

Apichat Nuchprayoon, Chief Executive Officer of Bio-Business Group of Kaset Thai International Sugar Corporation Public Company Limited (KTIS), has recently revealed that, in the past, the sugar cane production process was responsible for environmental pollution, especially burning sugarcane leaves before harvesting. Besides, farmers use a lot of chemical fertilizers improperly, resulting in soil waste since a lot of chemical substances are accumulated in the soil. Climate change also plays a key role in increasing risks of infectious diseases which took place 20 years ago when red rot wilt diseases damaged crops, affecting the whole system of cane and sugar industries. 

Apichat Nuchprayoon, Chief Executive Officer of Bio-Business Group of Kaset Thai International Sugar Corporation Public Company Limited (KTIS)

KTIS Group therefore places emphasis on environmentally friendly production processes, starting from the beginning which is sugarcane cultivation. Local cane growers are educated on the use of organic farming methods to assist cultivation, such as using parasitic hornets to control the number of sugar cane pests, avoiding the use of chemicals in the sugar cane plantation. It is an agricultural method that does not destroy the natural ecosystem to deter farmers from burning the leaves before harvesting. The KTIS group allows the purchase of sugarcane leaves at an additional 800 baht per ton from the current sugarcane price, only from the groups of farmers that the company supports to use sugarcane leaves as biomass energy. It is a waste treatment system from production with a recovery boiler system of a pulp mill that uses bagasse as 100% raw material without any chlorine substance which is highly carcinogenic in pulp bleaching. This results in paper pulp suitable for food products and containers. 

In addition, there is a biogas production system of the ethanol plant to treat wastewater by using it as fuel to produce renewable energy and produce bio fertilizer from by-products, namely filter sludge from sugar production, sludge from paper pulp production, vinasse liquid from ethanol production and ashes from power generation furnaces, all of which are organic and can be sold at low prices to sugarcane growers who use them to improve soil.  

“Every sugarcane production process can be beneficial to create a sustainable industry. In addition, farmers’ use of chemical fertilizers will gradually decrease, and organic fertilizers will help bring out various nutrients in the soil. In doing so, soil will recover. Governmental agencies should promote this as smart farming and carbon credits,” said Apichat. 

Promoting sustainable development in the sugarcane and sugar production process is currently generating income for the company, accounting for 20% of the year 2021’s total revenue of 10.419 billion baht and 14 billion baht in 2022. The proportion of sustainable business tends to grow as demand continues to increase. 

Also, the KTIS Group is researching and improving sugarcane breeds because the selection of sugarcane varieties suitable for the area will enhance the productivity and increase the income for local growers, and develop and create sustainability for the entire system of cane and sugar industry. It has developed various sugarcane varieties at the location of the sugar factory, namely Thai Agricultural Factory 1 and 2 in Nakhon Sawan, and the Thai Ekaluck Factory in Uttaradit with a total production capacity of 88,000 tons per day. 

At present, cane varieties suitable for promoting sugarcane farmers are contracted by KTIS group, so it requested to register them to the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The Ruam Phol 1, Ruam Phol 2, Kaset Thai 1, Kaset Thai 2 and Thai Ekaluck 1 were officially registered. 

All the 5 new varieties of sugarcane have a sweetness of 13-14 C.C.S., yielding 12-17 tons per Rai land. There are 4-8 stalks per clump. The trunk is straight, not bent, thus suitable for harvesting machines. The Ruam Phol 1 breed is resistant to the red rot wilt diseases, as well. 

“All the new 5 sugarcane breeds are Thai local cane growers’ alternatives who need to reduce the proportion of old sugarcane used continuously for a long time. Because the pests have adapted to the point that they can infest a sugarcane variety, the selection of sugarcane varieties suitable for the area will not only increase productivity and income for farmers, but will also be able to develop and create sustainability for the entire sugarcane and sugar industry,” added Apichat. 

Chief Executive Officer of Bio-Business Group of KTIS said that the KTIS group focused on research and development for better sugarcane varieties in line with the new economic model BCG (Bio-Circular-Green Economic Model) that aims to use natural products with the environmentally-friendly production process able to generate high income for the country continuously and sustainably. 

Sugarcane is one of the important economic crops of Thailand. It has an export value of over 100,000 million baht per year, creating jobs in the agricultural sector to more than 400,000 sugarcane growers, with over 12 million Rai land of sugarcane plantings across the country. 

Thanks to business efforts to upgrade the entire industry system through the creation of maximum benefits from the product, advantages return to the farmers and create an eco-industry that is environmentally friendly which finally leads to sustainability.