The worth of the sugar cane
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Monday February 17, 2014

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The worth of the sugar cane

For many years, tugboats hauling barges full of raw sugar would dock/pull alongside the old sugar warehouse (now demolished) which was located at the foot (figuratively) of the Swing bridge in Belize City. The raw sugar was stored at the warehouse (Storage)... until ready for loading into freight ships that would transport the sugar to refineries in the USA or UK.

The captains of the sugar tugboats that pulled the barges would navigate the New River ....starting at the Tower Hill Sugar Factory/Orange Walk ....and exiting the river in Corozal. They would then make their way to the Belize City warehouse by sea.

Sugar tugboats at the old Storage warehouse facility, and the Swing bridge at the distance.

The freight ships that picked up the sugar for exportation were allowed to carry between 5-12 K tons of sugar only. So, I am told. The sugar had to be taken to where the ships anchored... out at sea for obvious reasons.... the reef!

Both here in Corozal and Orange Walk, the main topic of discussion ending the old year 2013 and beginning the New Year 2014 continues to be the predominant unresolved issues overshadowing the future of the sugar cane crop. Here is a brief history of what exactly is sugar cane for those that would like to know.

Sugarcane, or Sugar cane, is any of six to 37 species (depending on which taxonomic system is used) of tall perennial true grasses of the genus Saccharum, tribe Andropogoneae, native to the warm temperate to tropical regions of South Asia. They have stout jointed fibrous stalks that are rich in sugar, and measure two to six metres (6 to 19 feet) tall. All sugar cane species interbreed and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids.

Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), an economically important seed plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum and many forage crops. The main product of sugarcane is sucrose, which accumulates in the stalk internodes. Sucrose, extracted and purified in specialized mill factories, is used as raw material in human food industries or is fermented to produce ethanol. Ethanol is produced by Belize Sugar Industries/American Sugar Refining to generate electricity which is then sold to Belize Electricity Limited for a profit.

Sugarcane is the world's largest crop. In 2010, the Food Agriculture Organization estimates sugar cane was cultivated on about 23.8 million hectares, in more than 90 countries, with a worldwide harvest of 1.69 billion tons. Brazil was the largest producer of sugar cane in the world. The next five major producers, in decreasing amounts of production, were India, China, Thailand, Pakistan and Mexico.

The world demand for sugar is the primary driver of sugarcane agriculture. Cane accounts for 80% of sugar produced; most of the rest is made from sugar beets. Sugarcane predominantly grows in the tropical and subtropical regions, and sugar beet predominantly grows in colder temperate regions of the world. Other than sugar, products derived from sugarcane include falernum, molasses, rum, traditional spirits, bagasse and ethanol. In some regions, people use sugarcane reeds to make pens, mats, screens, and thatch. The young unexpanded inflorescence of tebu telor is eaten raw, steamed or toasted, and prepared in various ways in certain island communities of Indonesia.

In India, between the sixth and fourth centuries BC, the Persians, followed by the Greeks, discovered the famous "reeds that produce honey without bees". They adopted and then spread sugar and sugarcane agriculture. A few merchants began to trade in sugar—a luxury and an expensive spice until the 18th century. Before the 18th century, cultivation of sugar cane was largely confined to India. Sugarcane plantations, like cotton farms, were a major driver of large human migrations in the 19th and early 20th century, influencing the ethnic mix, political conflicts and cultural evolution of various Caribbean, South American, Indian Ocean and Pacific island nations.

Sugarcane is a tropical, perennial grass that forms lateral shoots at the base to produce multiple stems, typically three to four metres high and about five cm in diameter. The stems grow into cane stalk, which when mature constitutes approximately 75% of the entire plant. A mature stalk is typically composed of 11–16% fiber, 12–16% soluble sugars, 2–3% non-sugars, and 63–73% water. A sugarcane crop is sensitive to the climate, soil type, irrigation, fertilizers, insects, disease control, varieties, and the harvest period. The average yield of cane stalk is 60–70 tonnes per hectare per year. However, this figure can vary between 30 and 180 tonnes per hectare depending on knowledge and crop management approach used in sugarcane cultivation. Sugarcane is a cash crop, but it is also used as livestock fodder.

In Belize, the sugar cane industry is a vital part of our economic structure and an important foreign exchange earner. Power to the cane farmers of the north.

Photograph and story by the Corozal Daily

Sugar Cane and the Maya Struggle in Northern Belize

The Sugar Cane was introduced to Belize by the Yucatec Maya who many migrated because of the Maya Social War(Caste War) during the 1847-1930's. The Guerra Social Maya was a arm struggle in which the Yucatec Maya after 300 years of oppression in their lands stood to fight for their freedom.

Today most Cañeros are people from Yucatec Maya descent or as some call them "Maya Mestizo". After the Caste War many Maya became cane farmers which continues to provide food in their houses. The struggle of the Maya villages in the northern Belize have not been easy. There where around 10 or more English companies that have taken over the land preventing the Maya of owing land. When this companies saw that the Yucatec Maya could produce sugarcane they took away the land which they where renting to them. The English company started to produce large amounts of Sugar cane. The large company controlled the land and the Maya where simply Cane Cutters.

In 1957 when the Governor went to give a speech in Corozal there where around 50 demonstartors organized by Jesus Ken. Jesus Ken was a Yucatec Maya from Xaibe Corozal who realizes that the capitalist System was giving land and the control of the industry to a few. Jesus Ken wanted the milperos and cane cutters to own the land and be independent producers of cane. He founded the Northern Cane Workers Union and began writting a Newsletter(El Azucarero).

In 1962 Cañeros led by Jesus Ken place ligthed candles protectes by rubbish in the middle of a Cane field when leaving work. The Candles burn down by nigthfall and the fields blazed. Since the cane needs to be cut and delivered in 24 hourse or else it losses its sucrose value. The Cañeros strike for ten days and a substantial increase was won by the Maya.

In 1963 Tate and Lyle was buying over the Corozal Sugar Factory and lands. The Maya organized themselves led by Jesus Ken. 80 men armed with machetes,shotguns and assorted weapons marched onto company land. They stopped the tractors from working. Ken send a telegram to price demanding lands to be given to the peasents. Today many of us Maya in Northern Belize have our land titles but the struggle continues.

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