SUGAR-CANE PLANTATIONS IN MAURITIUS

Sugar is indelibly linked with the history and evolution of Mauritius, making it what it is today in terms of its mixed heritage, its economy and of course, agriculture. From its introduction by the Dutch, to its cultivation by the French and the British, the sugarcane has turned the sugar manufacturing in Mauritius into its first source of income for decades, if not centuries.

  • History behind the famous Sugar Cane Plantation

Sugar cane was the first agricultural plant to be introduced in Mauritius from Java by the Dutch settlers in 1639 and was utilized on an artisanal basis primarily to manufacture an alcoholic beverage called arrack, made of molasses, which is produced as a by-product when making sugar. The first organized sugar mill on the island appears to have 

been that of the Wilhems brothers at the center of the island, under Governor Issac Johannes Lamotius (1677-1692). Under Governor Roelof Deodati (1692 -1703), the production of sugar was successfully expanded with the arrival of a surgeon, Jean Boekelberg on board of a ship called Standvastighied. Boekelberg had studied the sugar industry in Surinam and successfully used his knowledge within this fledgling industry. The Dutch finally abandoned Mauritius on 17 February 1710.

 

After the Dutch Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais (1737 -1745) was the first French Governor to make a long-lasting impact on Mauritius and is considered by some as the real founder as a French colony. He motivated the growth of sugar cane and build the infrastructure necessary for its extension throughout the colony. He imported the necessary advance technology to make the industry more efficient. During his governorship, the first modern sugar mills for the era were commissioned. These were the Rosalie-Villebague mill in Pamplemousses in 1745 and the mill at Grande Riviere Sud Est in Ferney.

A preliminary attack was foiled at Grand Port in August 1810 between the French and British colonies. A vast number of British landed in Mauritius overpowering the French who eventually left the island in the possession of the British.

 

Robert Townsend Farquhar as the first British Governor, brought about fast social and economic improvement. One of the most central was the abolition of slavery on 1 February 1835. The planters obtained a compensation of two million pounds sterling for the loss of their slaves, who had been imported from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation. The number of Mauritius Sugar Mills grew, as did their efficiency with the introduction of new technology, as competition became fierce. This led to the consolidation of the entire industry after 1860 when the number of operating mills decreased from 296 units to 30 in 1947.

 

In the 60's during the time we gained our independence there were 25 operating sugar mills. As from 1975, sugar was exported and traded under the Sugar Protocol signed between the EU and the ACP countries where Mauritius had an annual quota 

of 507,000 tons of raw sugar at a guaranteed price. The quota allocated to Mauritius was the largest amongst ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States) and represented about 35 per cent of the total allocation.

 

The EU Sugar Protocol ended in 2009. The price of sugar fell by 36 percent between 2006 and 2010.

In May 1997, the government produced a plan to rationalize the sugar sector by centralizing production around fewer mills and offering an accompanying package to employees and planters.

 

  • From Sugarcane to Sugar

The production of sugar at factory level is made more sophisticated by incorporating efficiency measures, diminishing costs and controlling the whole process in a rigorous manner to guarantee maximum yield. However, the process of extracting sugar from the sugarcane is simple in principle and can be broken down as follows:

  1. The sugarcane stalk is cut from the plant into small pieces;

  2. They are squashed using a mill to extract the juice;

  3. The fiber residue is called bagasse and is burnt to generate electricity in power stations;

  4. Lime is added to the juice to remove non-sugar constituents in the form of solids. These solids sink to the bottom and are removed and further processed to be used as fertilizers;

  5. The remaining juice is then concentrated via evaporation.

  6. Crystallization is then carried out under vacuum at a high controlled temperature

  7. Sugar crystals are separated from this thick mixture by passing it through a spinning cylinder

  8. The syrup left behind devoid of sugar crystals is called molasses. It is still rich in sugar content, about 30%, which cannot be economically extracted. Molasse is used in distilleries to make rum.

  9. After the production of sugar from the factories, lorries with special crates are loaded and head to the Bulk Sugar Terminal, is a modern storage area that carries sugar directly to the hold of ships docked nearby via conveyor belts in Port-Louis to be unloaded. It is the third biggest in the world, quite a feat for such a small island.

 

  • Special unrefined sugars

Mauritius is also known for its production of special sugars. These are unrefined sugars and come in 15 different forms:

  • Dry Demerara

  • Standard Demerara

  • Fine Demerara

  • Golden Fine Demerara

  • Dark Muscavado (rich in molasses which makes it sticky and ideal for fruit cakes)

  • Light Muscavado

  • Molasses Sugar

  • Coffee Crystals

  • Special Raws

  • Extra Dry Raws

  • Dark Brown Soft

  • Light Brown Soft

  • Golden Granulated (free-flowing and has a buttery taste ideal to make biscuits)

  • Golden Caster

  • Fine Golden Caster

L’Aventure du Sucre, a museum dedicated to tracing the history and development of the sugarcane in Mauritius, has a shop where these special sugars can be sampled and bought.

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Al Ameen Tours Ltd 
Contact: +230 52 5555 49/+230 52 5514 91
Address: 135,Green Park Terre-Rouge,Mauritius