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Sugar

Cultivation of Sugarcane in MauritiusSugar is one of the most commonly used commodities in the world, with countries with suitable climates located in the tropics, some of the largest producers of it. The history of this particular island in the tropics has been bound with the epic story of sugar for 300 years. Yet over 1000 years ago, sugar was already well known to the Indians and Chinese. As a valuable commodity, sugar travelled from the Far and Middle East to the gates of the Mediterranean, transported by Greek and Arab conquerors and introduced to the West by the Crusaders and sold for the price of gold by Venetian merchants in the 19th century.

Sugarcane cutting in Mauritius IslandEtymologically the word "Sugar" has its roots in the word "Arquera" which means "sand "in Sanskrit, one of the first known languages. This term has transformed into the word sugar in all Indo-European languages: sacquerons in Greek; in Latin, saccharin; sugar in English; in German, zucker; zucchero in Italian; in Arabic, sukkar; and azucar in Spanish. Sugar cane was first introduced to Mauritius by the Dutch and cultivated by the French and British as the tropical climate was perfect for growing sugar cane.

Extract of Sugarcane in machineIn the year 1638, the Dutch introduced sugar cane to Mauritius from Java in Indonesia, a move that would change the island’s destiny forever. However, the Dutch only used sugar cane to produce rum until their departure in 1710. It was under the French from 1715 onwards that sugar cane was cultivated in order to produce sugar. Today, after more than 300 years, sugar is still produced in Mauritius and accounts for 40% of all exports. However there are concerns for the future of the sugar industry following the lifting of EU quotas on domestic sugar production in late 2017 meaning that prices will come down and Mauritius will have to compete on the open market, but steps have been taken to diversify the sugar industry, including refining sugar for direct consumption and the production of speciality sugars, as well as energy production.

The production of sugarcane in Mauritius

The sugar production process includes the following stages and elements:

Harvesting - The cut or harvest is generally from June to November. This is completed manually with a sickle or mechanically. Then the cargo is transported to the factory.

The factory – includes: grinding mills, heaters, decanters, evaporators, cookers, mixers and centrifuges, plus lots of water to heat the syrup when steamed

Stripping - The cane is stripped of their leaves and chopped into small pieces before going through the grinding mills.

Grinding – Fibre cane pieces fall through the horizontal cylinders which crush the dense fibre cane as they turn to extract the juices.

Sugar molasses storage in factoryUnder British occupation, the sugar industry thrived in Mauritius. The first governor, Robert Townsend Farquhar, brought about rapid social and economic change. Slavery was abolished on 1 February 1835 and the planters were compensated in the amount of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the period of French occupation. Sugar plantations increased, more sugar factories were built and were made more efficient with the introduction of new technology, as competition grew. Preferential prices for sugar exports to Britain were negotiated and sugar became a very important commodity.

 

The quality of sugar in MauritiusPreviously sugar was exported to the EU from Mauritius under the Sugar Protocol that was signed between the EU and the ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) countries where Mauritius was allocated an annual quota of 507,000 tonnes of raw sugar at a guaranteed price. Since the EU ended this quota in 2009, the price of sugar fell and Mauritius had to diversify its sugar industry in order to survive.