Martinique & sugarcane
This page is about sugarcane cultivation in Martinique. For more general information about sugarcane, please take a look at :
An expanding crop
Sugarcane is the second crop of Martinique behind banana with 13.7% or 4150 ha of cultivated lands. Land area used by sugarcane is up by more than 20% over the past 20 years after several years of decline. It rose from 3700 ha in 2005 to 3950 ha in 2007 and 4150 ha in 2009. This fast paced growth can easily be explained by Rhum agricole high added value and rising sugar prices on world markets.
In 2009, Martinique produced over 220'000 metric tons of sugarcane. 40% of the harvest went to "Le Gallion" sugar production facility (89'476 tons to produce 5'564 tons of sugar and the equivalent of 15'000 hectolitres of pure alcohol page de créditsof traditional rum). The remanining 60% went to rhum agricole distilleries (to produce the equivalent of 80'000 hectolitres of pure alcohol).
There are currently about 180 farmers growing sugarcane. Farms tend to grow bigger over time with over 50 ha producers accounting for 6% of overall farms while having almost three quarters of the cultivated area. The share of large farms is expanding as the number of farms decreased from 217 in 2006 to 180 in 2008.
(data IEDOM 2007,2008 & 2009)1
The trends for sugarcane production and its use in Martinique are :
Data are expressed in thousands of metric tons of cane sugar.
(data IEDOM 2007,2008 & 2009)1
Sugar cane's cultural heritage
Sugar plant in the West Indies.
In martinique, as in any place where cane has been introduced, sugar cane truly represents the past sufferings from slavery. It is also an important part of what Martinique is made of.
Sugar cane has been brought into Martinique as soon as 1640 to form a profitable crop by supplying sugar to the European markets.
Sugar cane mill, Martinique ~1835
Image ref:Magasin 2 from www.slaveryimages.org website
To remain competitive, the production cost had to be kept at its lowest. Sugarcane cultivation being a labour consuming crop, its workforce was soon and for long provided by slaves. The vast majority of today's Martinique inhabitants have slaves as ancestors.
Sugar prices collapsed when war torn Europe switched to beet root sugar during the Napoleonic wars. Units were coinverted into rhum producing plants to restore profitability. This activity rapidly took over the sugar production. After a few years of price instability, World War I gave the rhum industry an unexpected chance to the West Indies producers. Martinique and other caribbean islands were tasked at replacing the mainland's production units destroyed by the war or occupied by Germans. Rhum was deeply appreciated to boost soldier' s morale and was a much sought after ingredient for the production of explosives.
At the end of World War I, Rhum accounted for 84% of Martinique's exports.
Sugarcane was once again a profitable crop.
|Rhum, soldier's morale booster
La fabuleuse histoire du rhum, p129
After World War II, sugarcane cultivated areas were halved in 10 years, replaced by other crops such as banana. Industrial rhum production regularly loses shares and falls behind Rhum agricole production.
This terroir rhum is unable to sustain the economic comparison with rum produced in surrounding islands and their low cost workforce. A choice is made to work on quality to develop a product worth its price. The product specificity is also advertised to make the consumer aware of the differences between rhum agricole and its competitors.
The first attempt to get the product certified by an AOC is made in 1975. It took more than 30 years of efforts to achieve the AOC recognition in 1996.
Sugarcane became in the process the symbol of quality and a labelled production.
Sugarcane fields have low water consumption levels, due to AOC requirements. The traditional Martinique landscapes are well aligned with curent environmental concerns.
|Sugarcane; sugar, sun, sea, ...|
Technical center for cane and sugar
To coordinate research efforts on sugar cane, Ministry of Agriculture, and Economic Affairs for the overseas departments (DOM) created with a December 1952 decree a cross-industry structure of public service, the Technical Centre for Cane and Sugar (CSTC).
This move was intended to restore the strengths of a declining industry. Sugarcane cultivated area was regularly declining and the whole industry needed modern tools and methods (tractors, machinery, fertilizers and herbicides) to cope with competition from other islands and countries. Research and development was also dearly needed to develop new crops and better cultivation and transformation techniques.
The Gallion factory is the only sugar producing unit of Martinique. This plant also produces industrial rhum from the by products of its sugar activity, the molasses.
The factory transforms less than 40% of the island sugarcane production and this supply is not sufficient to cover the island needs for sugar. In 2007, the Gallion produced 14'000 metric tonnes of sugar, including 6'000 of brown sugar.
The location of this factory can be found on this map of Martinique production units.