Sugar Is Not So Sweet For Some People

August 12th, 2013 BY Hilary Feldman | 5 Comments

With the modern western diet, sugar cane has become a central crop. Used to produce sugar and molasses, cane is also the basis for rum, cachaça, and other edibles. In Brazil, sugar cane is huge – boosting the country to the position of top sugar cane producer worldwide. The focus on biofuels such as ethanol has further boosted cane growing. Even cane wastes are used for bagasse, fibre weaving, and more.

Sugar cane includes several related grass species that are native to southern areas of Asia. It is now a common crop across most subtropical and tropical countries. All sugar cane species share several key characteristics including rapid growth and a thick stalk filled with sucrose-thick sap. Once the cane is grown and harvested, the stalks are juiced. The resulting sap is boiled to remove the water, so the remaining sugar can be crystallized.

But change is on the horizon in Brazil. A new emphasis on the environmental costs of the cane industry are forcing some major modifications. Globally, manual harvesting is the most common approach. The first step uses controlled burning to remove vegetation. Cutters wielding sharp knives or machetes then harvest the remaining green stalks. The immediate result of burning is thick black smoke, which has proven to be both a health hazard and source of emissions. Responding to changing environmental values, the Brazilian government has announced that burning cane will be phased out over the next decade.

While this is promising for air quality and overall emissions, controlled burning is part of the hands-on approach. It is being phased out in favour of mechanization. This trend has picked up steam over the past several years, with machines offering a cheaper option. A single harvester takes the place of 90 manual cutters.

On the smaller scale, the changes will have enormous impact. People who work as manual sugar cane cutters come from all over the country. Working seasonally in cane fields provides a valuable income for communities with few other economic opportunities. Areas like Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais grow 70% of the country’s cane crop. Most of their cane cutters come from other states, particularly the northeast. It is unclear what employment alternatives will be available.

Photo credit: Breno Castro Alves
  1. Sherry
    1

    This past year the exorbitant cost of fuel has seriously damaged our economy.From filling up the car to paying more for every consumer product whose cost of production and shipping was passed on to us there was little left over.We spend less because we have less, this results in even more job losses. OPEC has us over a barrel literally.WE reduce our use cut production by 1.5 million barrels a day & will cut more they say. .Our country needs to invest in reducing our dependence on foreign oil. The 168 Billion they paid out in the last stimulus pkg that did nothing at all for our economy would have gone a long way toward getting us started on the road to energy impendence. Utilizing renewable energy sources would not only provide clean low cost fuel it would create an estimated 1million plus jobs. I just read Jeff Wilson’s new book The Manhattan Project of 2009. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in seeing America become more energy independent.

  2. flowerhorn08
    2

    This is what makes preserving the environment so difficult. When we switch to another more eco-friendly method in harvesting or producing certain goods, certain type of workforce might lose their employments. I am very sure someone will gain and someone else will lose. Nothing much we can do about it.

  3. Carolyn
    3

    If you don’t want to give up you sweet tooth, a great way to be a more environmentally- and socially- conscious consumer is to use maple syrup in stead of cane sugar. Healthy maple forests sequester carbon, and buying maple syrup helps sustain and American culture tradition and keep money in our local agricultural economies. It’s not just for pouring on pancakes- it’s great in salad dressings and for baking!

  4. Memet Hakim
    4

    As far as cane growth, the cutter needed off course. Many harverster did green harvesting in Indonesia, but productivity of cutter a litle bit lower.

    They can use a sling cane harvester ( about 9-10 kgs) for increasing their productivity and decresase of production cost.

    No burning any more, no carbon in the air any more

  5. Memet Hakim
    5

    As far as cane growth, the cutter needed off course. Many harverster did green harvesting in Indonesia, but productivity of cutter a litle bit lower.

    They can use a sling cane harvester ( about 9-10 kgs) for increasing their productivity and decresase of production cost.

    No burning any more, no carbon in the air any more

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