Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 455–468 | Cite as

Depoliticizing land and water “grabs” in Colombia: the limits of Bonsucro certification for enhancing sustainable biofuel practices

  • Theresa SelfaEmail author
  • Carmen Bain
  • Renata Moreno


As concerns heighten over links between biomass production and land grabs in the global south, attention is turning to understanding the role of governance of biofuels systems, whereby decision-making and conduct are not solely determined through government regulations but increasingly shaped by non-state actors, including multi-stakeholder initiatives (MSI). Launched in 2005, Bonsucro is the principal MSI that focuses on sustainability standards for sugar and sugarcane ethanol production. Bonsucro claims that because it is free from government interference and draws on scientific metrics, their standards transcend localized, political–economic contexts. In this paper, we illustrate how the local context shapes the prospects for Bonsucro sustainably certified biofuel production in relation to land and water grabs. To accomplish this, our case focuses on Colombia, which has used a range of national policy mandates to establish itself as one of the larger producers of agrofuels in Latin America. We draw on interviews with stakeholders in the sugar and ethanol industries, paired with an examination of Bonsucro principles on land rights and water use, to illustrate how the sugar industry is framing their participation in Bonsucro, and the effects of the increasing intensification of sugarcane for ethanol production on land and water access for communities. We find that within the context of Colombia, efforts such as Bonsucro provide a veil of legitimacy and authority to a system that is premised on deeply entrenched historical patterns of inequitable land ownership patterns and access to natural resources.


Multi-stakeholder initiatives Land grabs Bonsucro Certification 



Colombian Sugarcane Growers Association


Cauca Valley Corporation


European Union


Multi-stakeholder initiatives


Colombian Association of Sugarcane Cultivators and Suppliers


Renewable Energy Directive


Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials


Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil


Roundtable on Responsible Soy



This article is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Grants OISE-PIRE 1243444: Sustainability, Ecosystem Services, and Bioenergy Development across the Americas and CBET-1140152 RCN-SEES: A Research Coordination Network on Pan American Biofuels and Bioenergy Sustainability. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The authors would like to express their appreciation to all those who kindly agreed to participate in this research project. We also want to thank Laura Silva-Castenada, Michel Köhne, and the special issue editors for their most helpful comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Environmental StudiesState University of New YorkSyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyIowa State UniversityAmesUSA

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