Sugar cane production has been in the jewel as early as the 1800’s. Few know the history of this and hence why the exhibition is up at the Corozal House of Culture titled, ‘Back in the Day’, where it tells the story of economic and social development in Corozal for the most part. We decided to take a look at the sugar production of the exhibits display and our reporter Elmer Cornejo tells us more.
Elmer Cornejo reporting…
Between the Spanish Conquest and 1848, the Corozal region was virtually uninhabited. The British were interested only in its timber resources which depleted soon after and in turn forced them to venture into sugar cane production. In 1857, a hundred barrels of sugar produced in British Honduras were sent from Belize to Liverpool. During these early years sugar cane was planted, much by small growers in rural Corozal. During the 1860's several British investors established sizeable estates in the Corozal region which, in contrast to the earlier mestizo haciendas, may be referred to as plantations. During the 1870's and1880's these estates gave the haciendas serious competition. The latter continued to plant and process cane for both rum and sugar, but the British planters moved decisively into the export market. Twelve estates were established; three of these were near Orange Walk. While the earlier haciendas were operated by animal power with the simplest of machinery, these estates were steam driven, mechanically sophisticated, and quite large. The plantations, like the smaller haciendas, cultivated both sugar cane and sufficient subsistence crops especially corn to feed the owner and labourers. The British plantations in Corozal were short-lived. From a record of two and a half million pounds of sugar in1882, exports fell to about 200,000 pounds in the early 1890's.In the early 1900’s the establishment of the Corozal Sugar Factory was the result of the colonial government's concern over the declining level of exports. The original plans for the factory called for a central processing plant to be located in a central location, Pembroke Hall, to which would be attached a plantation owned by the same company. The bulk of the canes, however, were to be supplied by the six surviving mestizo-owned haciendas namely: San Juan Saltillo, Aventura, San Francisco, Pueblo Nuevo, Louisville, and America. Factory operations began in 1937 in formerly known Pembroke Hall, now Libertad; the results were dismal when the goal of2,500 tons was not reached until 1953, export levels remained extremely low. As late as 1953 only 812 tons were exported.
By 1954 only three of the original contractors were still in existence; these three delivered 7,357 tons that year, slightly over half of that delivered by 122 small producers. Twenty-five percent of these small producers were from the remote village of San Narciso, which had been the principal cash level corn-producing Maya village during the 1930's.
It was expected that British Honduras would be allowed to export 25,000 tons annually under the terms of the 1951 Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. In 1956 a subsidiary of the new ownership formed another company, known as Plantations Limited, which began to buy private lands throughout the region. It soon became apparent that Plantations Limited had expansive tastes, and opposition from within the peasant sector began to emerge. Then Governor Hornley attempted to subdue opposition by announcing in a speech given at Louisville early in 1957 that the 25,000 tons export quota had been confirmed by London.
Many British Hondurans were not convinced of the Governor's sincerity and his understanding of the situation. In the same issue of the Belize Times in which his speech was recorded, editorial remarks were made in all probability written by George Price of which was applauded by many. In 1997 constant neglect of the then UDP Government forced the closure and operation of the Petrojam sugar factory which once pumped millions of dollars to Libertad and the northern region of the country. Today an estimated 40,000 acres in the northern lowlands is reaped each year and processed at the Belize Sugar Industry that began operation in 1967 in Tower Hill Orange Walk.
To know more on the history of the sugar cane in Belize you can visit the Corozal House of Culture where the exhibit ‘Back in the Day’ will be up until next week.