The pre-harvest burning of sugarcane leaves is a common practice that
enables manual pickers to collect the crop quickly, suffering less
personal injury. The burning process, however, has negative impacts on
the environment, on human health and on the potential energy value of
the plant. Mechanisation eliminates the need for burning, speeding up
the collection process, eliminating harmful emissions from smoke,
reducing crop wastage and thus increasing productivity in terms of
energy generation. Electricity generated from sugarcane biomass can also
be sold to the grid, increasing both producers’ income and the national
energy supply. This Brief uses the example of Brazil to illustrate the
advantages and disadvantages of switching from manual to mechanised
sugarcane harvesting, and shares Brazil’s efforts to gradually phase-out
manual harvesting and improve infrastructure to take advantage of
cogeneration potential. The lessons learned might be useful for
countries from other regions as they consider how to structure ethanol
production from the onset in their own countries.
Mechanisation of sugarcane harvesting can increase productivity and
Eradicating pre-harvest burning can reduce environmental harm and
increase energy cogeneration potential.
The cogeneration of electricity from sugarcane biomass has been shown to
be more efficient when using high pressure boilers.
de Carvalho, P.N. ELLA Policy Brief: From Manual to Mechanical Harvesting: Reducing Environmental Impacts and Increasing Cogeneration Potential. ELLA, Practical Action Consulting, Lima, Peru (2012)