According to data from the International Sugar Organization, Guatemala is the second largest sugar exporter in Latin America and the fifth worldwide. In addition, it is the third largest sugar producer in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Research and development, a fundamental pillar for the Guatemalan Sugar Industry, has contributed to improve efficiency and competitiveness each harvest. The development of varieties of sugarcane is one of the great contributions of the research center, and through the natural crossing of plants, 33 varieties of Guatemalan sugarcane have been developed that are more productive, resistant to pests and climate change.
The sugar produced in Guatemala is exported to all continents and according to data from the Bank of Guatemala (Banguat) in 2020, 59% of sugar exports were destined for countries on the American continent, followed by Asia with 19%, Africa with 13%, Europe with 5% and Oceania with 4%.
Expogranel, the door to the world of the Guatemalan Sugar
For export, the Sugar Industry has one of the best specialized terminals for the shipment of sugar. Expogranel, located in Puerto Quetzal (102 km South of Guatemala City), is the specialized terminal for handling and shipping bulk sugar in Guatemala, which has positioned itself as one of the most efficient terminals in the world.
It has the capacity to store 350,000 metric tons of sugar in bulk and 58,000 metric tons of sugar in bags, this added to its loading speed, compared to other countries gives Guatemala a competitive advantage.
What makes it more impressive is its current shipping rate of 2,000 metric tons of bulk sugar per hour. Before Expogranel existed, a 35 thousand metric ton ship was loaded in 30 days and today it is done in an average of 18 hours. And it has a sugar shipping capacity of more than 3,500 tons in bags per day.
To produce sugar, the juice is the raw material and the squeezed and crushed cane, called “Bagasse” is a residue, which thanks to the research has become a source of renewable energy.
The energy generation of the Guatemalan Sugar Industry is strategic for the country since it takes place during the season of cane harvest and sugar production called Zafra and begins in November and ends in May, therefore it includes the dry season when hydroelectric plants decrease its contribution to the National Interconnected System. This helps to keep energy prices stable.
Just last year, according to data from the Association of Independent Cogenerators, the contribution of the Sugar Industry represented up to 46% of the energy used by the entire country during the Zafra season.
The sugar factories are self-sufficient, this means that they produce the energy they consume, the rest they sell to the national and regional electricity market.
Each year 7.5 million tons of bagasse are used to generate this renewable energy. The Guatemalan Sugar Industry has an installed capacity of 1,020 MW for generation.
In addition, with the renewable energy produced by the Sugar Industry, more than 4 million CO2 is prevented from reaching the atmosphere each year.
In the production of sugar, the Guatemalan Sugar Industry has implemented new technologies and processes, both in the cultivation of sugar cane and in industrial activities, to reduce its consumption of water.
Guatemala is a country with high vulnerability to the effects of Climate Change and agriculture is one of the sectors most affected by climatic variations. That is why the Sugar Industry has implemented more efficient irrigation systems, which use less water and apply only the amount of the vital liquid that the plant needs.
Likewise, the Guatemalan Sugar Industry has invested in systems for the reuse of water in the sugar mills. The water used in the manufacturing process is taken to a cooling system; since it comes out at high temperature, where after being cooled it returns to the factory, through a recirculation system, to be used again.
The Water Footprint of the Guatemalan Sugar Industry
According to a study carried out by the Private Institute for Climate Change Research -ICC- the water footprint of the Guatemalan sugar cane crop for the 2019-2020 zafra was estimated at 110.35 m3 of water per ton of sugar cane, where the Irrigation water represented 21% of the total water footprint. Rainwater represented 73% of the total water footprint.
Each ton of sugar cane produced in Guatemala uses 47% less water than the cane produced worldwide, whose results may be related especially to the high sugar cane yields per hectare that the Guatemalan Sugar Industry has achieved.
Of the crops that are most produced worldwide, sugar cane is the one with the smallest water footprint. In addition, the experts of the Guatemalan Sugarcane Research and Training Center -Cengicaña- have developed a mobile application to optimize the use of irrigation water in sugarcane called Cengiriegos, which allows only the water it needs to be applied to the plant.
The start of the Zafra contributes to the reactivation of the economy. The activities of the Guatemalan Sugar Industry generates more than 54 thousand direct jobs and 270 thousand indirect ones.
The Guatemalan Sugar Industry is an economic engine for the country since it generates an economic footprint of more than US$ 1,188 million each year, which reaches 90% of the country’s municipalities and each year generates more than 54 thousand direct jobs and distribute more than US$ 402 million in wages and salaries.
In addition, the Sugar Industry hires more than 6,325 supplier companies (large, medium, and small) of products and services, who also become employers and multiply the opportunities for the population.
The 2021-2022 Zafra will take place in challenging conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the Guatemalan Sugar Industry continues with strict biosecurity measures both in the field and in the factory.
“The Zafra is the harvest season for sugarcane and sugar production, which takes place from November to May. Our commitment every year is to improve our processes to be more and more efficient and develop our operation in a responsible way with our neighbors”, commented Luis Miguel Paiz, General Manager of the Guatemalan Sugar Producers Association -Asazgua-.
Technology, the basis of efficiency
In the Guatemalan Sugar Industry, systems and processes have been implemented to optimize the use of water for the irrigation of sugarcane; likewise, the sugar mills have implemented systems for the reuse of water and thus reduce the use of this resource. It is important to note that the sugar cane obtains from the rain about 72% of the water it needs to grow.
Research and development is a fundamental pillar for the Guatemalan Sugar Industry, it has contributed to improve efficiency and competitiveness each harvest. The development of varieties of sugar cane is one of the great contributions of the research center, and through the natural crossing of plants, 33 varieties of Guatemalan sugar cane have been developed that are more productive, resistant to pests and climate change.