Agricultural Economics: Food Crops--Sugar


Figure 1.-- The large scale production of sugar for Europeans as well as the Atlantic Slave Trade began in Brazil. This photograph shows a sugar cane mill in the Piauí State, northeastern Brazil (1912). The process of producung sugar was little changed from the 17th century. Slavery had ended only 24 years earlier. The life of the former slaves, however, improved only marginally, especially in the rural areas. They were legally free, but with very limited ways of making a livelihood. They had to work for their former owners with conditions similar in mant ways to slavery.

Sugar is not needed for proper nutition, but for some reason man is geneticall programed to seek out sugar. It is one of the five tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (savory or mearty) that human taste buds detect. Sugar is found in small quantities in many foods. Man was not gentically engineered to consume large quantities of sugar. And doing so in our modern world has caused all kinds of health problems. For most of human existence, this is how sugar was ingested, supplement by occassion bee hive finds. It was the Polynesians who are believed to have discovered sugarcane. Indian traders operating in Polynsia brought it back to India where processes for manufacturing refined sugar were first developed. When the Persian Emperor Darius invaded northwestern India (6th century BC), the Persians encountered sugar bringing it further west. The Arab Islamic outburst resulted in the creation of a vast empire--the Caliphate (7th century AD). The Arabs encountered sugr in Persia and spread it througout their empire as far west as Spain. It was during the Crusades, however, that European elites first became aware of sugar. The Arabs continued to control the sugar trade for several centuries after the First Crusade. The word surgar (azucar in Spanish) is of Arab origins. Arab control meant that quantities were limited in Europe ad hugely expensive. Only a few areas in Europe were suitble for growinging sugar cane. This changed with Colunbus' discovery of the Americas ad the colonization of huge areas in the tropical zone that were suitable for growing cane. This set in motion both a sugar boom and the Atlantic slave trade. Large scale production began in Brazil (17th century), but soon spread to the Caribbean. The European sweet tooth made tiny Caribbean islabds some of the most valuable realestate in the world.

Plants Used for Producing Sugar

The most important plant used to produce sugar is sugarcane. Sugarcane is a type of grass (family Poaceae). Interestingly it is the appearance of grass lands on the African savana that is believed to have driven human evolution from tree-dweling ape-like species. All grasses contain small quantities of sugar. Sugar cane contains very high levels. here are several different species of sugarcane, although scientists disagree as to just how many, ranging fom 6-37 species. Sugarcane is a tall perennial true grasses of the genus Saccharum. It is native to the temperate/tropical regions of South Asia. Cane has stout jointed fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar. Sugar cane can grow 2-6 metres high, depending on the species and growing conditions. All identified sugarcane species can interbreed. The sgarcane grown by modern growers are complex hybrids. Sugarcane is one of the world's most importnt food crops. About 23.8 million hectares is devoted to sugarcane culture (2010). It is crown in more than 90 different countries. The bulk of prody\uction comes from the world's tropical belt. The worldwide harvest is about 1.7 billion tons. Brazil is by far the world's largest was the largest producer of sugar cane. Other important producers include: India, China, Thailand, Pakistan, and Mexico. Cuba is the largest producer in the Caribbean. Sugar can be produced from other planrs, especually beets. No plant has, however, nearly the same sugar content as sugar cane. Thus production cosrs for beet sugar are higher than that for cane sugar.

Human Nutrition

Sugar is not needed for proper nutition, but for some reason man is geneticall programed to seek out sugar. It is one of the five tastes (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, and umami (savory or mearty) that human taste buds detect. Sugar is found in small quantities in many foods. Man was not gentically engineered to consume large quantities of sugar. And doing so in our modern world has caused all kinds of health problems. For most of human existence, this is how sugar was ingested, supplement by occassion bee hive finds.

History

The spread of sugar is a textbook example of internatiinal commerce. Irobically for a product that bungs such leasure to humans, it has brough untold misery to miillions. The story of sugarv begins in Oceania. It was the Polynesians who are believed to have discovered sugarcane. Indian traders operating in Polynesia brought it back to India where processes for manufacturing refined sugar were first developed. When the Persian Emperor Darius invaded northwestern India (6th century BC), the Persians encountered sugar bringing it further west. The Arab Islamic outburst resulted in the creation of a vast empire--the Caliphate (7th century AD). The Arabs encountered sugar in Persia and spread it througout their empire as far west as Spain. The word for sugar in English nd other languages has Arab origins. It was during the Crusades, that European elites first became aware of sugar. The Arabs continued to control the sugar trade for several centuries after the First Crusade. Arab control meant that quantities were limited in Europe and hugely expensive. Only a few areas in Europe were suitble for growinging sugar cane. This changed with Columbus' discovery of the Americas and the colonization of huge areas in the tropical zone that were suitable for growing cane. This set in motion both a sugar boom and the Atlantic slave trade. The Spanish first colonized the Caribbean (Spanish Main), but then became more interested in the mainland, both Mexico and Peru attracted by gold and silver. This enabled other European countries to seize Caribbean islands. Large scale production began in Brazil (17th century), but soon spread to the Caribbean. The European sweet tooth made tiny Caribbean islabds some of the most valuable realestate in the world.

Country Trends

There were many constant threads in the sugar industries around the world. The sugar industry in several countries is especially notable. Brazil in the early colonia period became the world's most important sugar producer, initially mostly for export. The sugar boom began in Brazil and only later extended to the Caribbean. Brazil continues today as the largest producer. Massive quantities are now being condumed dmestically, converted to producuce ethonol which hs been used to substiture for oil impors. Indiawas the first major producer of sugar and sugar cane was originally native to South Asia. Hispaniola was the first Spanish colony in the New World. The French seized control of the western part of the island before sugar was a major crop. Santo Domingo (modern Haiti) before the French Revolutiion and slave revolt became the most important sugar producer in the Caribban and the most valuable colonial possssion. Despite the wealth they created, conditions were horific for the slaves put to work on the plantations. French planters literally worked their slaves to death. The profits gained were so emense that replcement workers wre simply purchased from African slavers. Other islands such as British Barbados became essentially a massive sugar plantation. After the Haitain slave rebellion, Cuba emerged as the main sugar producer un the Caribbean. And for those reason and the Spanish ability to hold the islands as independence movements swept the mainland, Cuba became the last non-Muslim country to outlaw slavery. After Castro seized control of Cuba (1959), Cuban sugar played a role in the Cold war.

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Created: 11:48 PM 09/30/2012
Last updated: 9:47 PM 7/27/2013