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LONDON (Reuters) - The Bonsucro scheme, which ensures that production of sugar and ethanol from sugarcane meet environmental, social and business standards, is set to grow sharply as the industry moves toward sustainable practices.
But certification companies will struggle to keep pace with demand, Nick Goodall, chief executive of Bonsucro, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
Food processing and drinks companies and individual consumers increasingly seek reassurance that high social and environmental standards prevail in the production of the food they buy. Bonsucro is the only major certification scheme for sugar production.
Goodall said he expected Bonsucro certification, which began last June, to account for 5 percent of the world's land under cane in two years and a third by 2020, up from 1.44 percent now.
Currently around 1 million tonnes of cane production is Bonsucro-certified.
Bonsucro's members include leading agricultural groups such as Bunge (BG.N), Copersucar and Raizen. Fourteen mills are already certified in Brazil. Some mills in Australia are being signed up, and some Mexican mills are expected to join soon.
Beverage groups such as The Cocoa Cola Company bottling system (COKE.O) have bought Bonsucro-certified sugar.
"The buyers of sugar are increasingly demanding provable best-practice performance from the mills," Goodall said.
Bonsucro, a London-based non-profit, has set 80 tests that mills must pass in order to earn certification.
The tests cover areas such as labour rights including access to safe drinking water, environmental criteria including judicious use of soil and water, and efficiencies to boost yield and profit.
Large mills with access to vast swathes of land under cane have been the first to sign up to Bonsucro.
Companies that join pay a certification fee of 0.007 cents per tonne.
Goodall said that despite the prospects for increased take-up of Bonsucro certification by mills, the number of companies that can audit mills to ensure they comply with certification standards is limited.
"The challenge is to manage expectations," he said.
"The capacity of mills to respond to customers' calls for sustainability standards needs to be handled very carefully so that we don't have bottlenecks in the various markets around the world."
Goodall said countries such as India, the world's number 2 sugar producer after Brazil and the world's biggest sugar consumer, are working towards Bonsucro certification.
However, it could take longer for India to achieve than for countries such as Brazil and Colombia.
"Bonsucro certification in India is more challenging because of the extent of small-scale farmers and the lack of organisation of farming groups like cooperatives," Goodall said.
Private partnerships between mills and non-governmental organisations in India are helping to work towards the goal of certification.
Bonsucro's main focus this year was to attract more take-up of its certification scheme in Latin America, Goodall said. The group plans to stage a seminar in Recife, Brazil, on June 18.
Reporting by David Brough, editing by Jane Baird