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Saccharum officinarum Saccharum officinarum - Kohler-s Medizinal-Pflanzen-125.jpg
Saccharum officinarum

Sugarcane or sugar cane is a species of tall, perennial grass (in the genus Saccharum , tribe Andropogoneae) that is used for sugar production. The plants are 2–6 m (6–20 ft) tall with stout, jointed, fibrous stalks that are rich in sucrose, [1] which accumulates in the stalk internodes. Sugarcanes belong to the grass family, Poaceae, an economically important flowering plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum, and many forage crops. It is native to the warm temperate and tropical regions of India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea.


Sugarcane was an ancient crop of the Austronesian and Papuan people. It was introduced to Polynesia, Island Melanesia, and Madagascar in prehistoric times via Austronesian sailors. It was also introduced to southern China and India by Austronesian traders around 1200 to 1000 BC. The Persians and Greeks encountered the famous "reeds that produce honey without bees" in India between the sixth and fourth centuries BC. They adopted and then spread sugarcane agriculture. [2] Merchants began to trade in sugar, which was considered a luxurious and expensive spice, from India. In the 18th century, sugarcane plantations began in the Caribbean, South American, Indian Ocean, and Pacific island nations. The need for sugar crop laborers became a major driver of large migrations, some people voluntarily accepting indentured servitude [3] and others forcibly imported as slaves. [4]

Grown in tropical and subtropical regions, sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity, totaling 1.9 billion tonnes in 2020, with Brazil accounting for 40% of the world total. Sugarcane accounts for 79% of sugar produced globally (most of the rest is made from sugar beets). About 70% of the sugar produced comes from Saccharum officinarum and its hybrids. [5] All sugarcane species can interbreed, and the major commercial cultivars are complex hybrids. [6]

White sugar is produced from sugarcane in specialized mill factories. Sugarcane reeds are used to make pens, mats, screens, and thatch. The young, unexpanded flower head of Saccharum edule (duruka) is eaten raw, steamed, or toasted, and prepared in various ways in Southeast Asia, such as certain island communities of Indonesia as well as in Oceanic countries like Fiji. [7] The direct use of sugar cane to produce ethanol for biofuel is projected to potentially surpass the production of white sugar as an end product.


The term 'sugarcane' is a combination of two words; sugar and cane. The former ultimately derives from Sanskrit शर्करा (śárkarā) as the crop originated in Southeast Asia. As sugar was traded and spread West, this became سُكَّر (sukkar) in Arabic, zúcchero in Italian, zuccarum in Latin, and eventually sucre in both Middle French and Middle English. The second term "cane" began to be used alongside it as the crop was grown on plantations in the Caribbean; gana is the Hindi word for sugarcane (gana = cane).[ citation needed ]


Sugarcane is one of the most widely produced primary crops in the world World Production Of Primary Crops, Main Commodities.svg
Sugarcane is one of the most widely produced primary crops in the world

Sugarcane, a perennial tropical grass, exhibits a unique growth pattern characterized by lateral shoots emerging at its base, leading to the development of multiple stems. These stems typically attain a height of 3 to 4 meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) and possess a diameter of about 5 centimeters (approximately 2 inches). As these stems mature, they evolve into cane stalks, constituting a substantial portion of the entire plant, accounting for roughly 75% of its composition.[ citation needed ]

A fully mature cane stalk generally comprises a composition of around 11–16% fiber, 12–16% soluble sugars, 2–3% nonsugar carbohydrates, and 63–73% water content. The successful cultivation of sugarcane hinges on a delicate interplay of several factors, including climatic conditions, soil properties, irrigation methods, fertilization practices, pest and disease management, the selection of specific varieties, and the timing of the harvest.[ citation needed ]

In terms of yield, the average production of cane stalk stands at 60–70 tonnes per hectare (equivalent to 24–28 long tons per acre or 27–31 short tons per acre) annually. However, this yield figure is not fixed and can vary significantly, ranging from 30 to 180 tonnes per hectare. This variance is contingent upon the level of knowledge applied and the approach to crop management embraced in the cultivation of sugarcane. Ultimately, the successful cultivation of this valuable crop demands a thoughtful integration of various factors to optimize its growth and productivity.[ citation needed ]

Sugarcane is a cash crop, but it is also used as livestock fodder. [8] Sugarcane genome is one of the most complex plant genomes known, mostly due to interspecific hybridization and polyploidization. [9] [10]


The two centers of domestication for sugarcane are one for Saccharum officinarum by Papuans in New Guinea and another for Saccharum sinense by Austronesians in Taiwan and southern China. Papuans and Austronesians originally primarily used sugarcane as food for domesticated pigs. The spread of both S. officinarum and S. sinense is closely linked to the migrations of the Austronesian peoples. Saccharum barberi was only cultivated in India after the introduction of S. officinarum. [11] [12]

Map showing centers of origin of Saccharum officinarum in New Guinea, S. sinensis in southern China and Taiwan, and S. barberi in India; dotted arrows represent Austronesian introductions Map showing centers of origin of Saccharum officinarum in New Guinea, S. sinensis in China, and S. barberi in India.png
Map showing centers of origin of Saccharum officinarum in New Guinea, S. sinensis in southern China and Taiwan, and S. barberi in India; dotted arrows represent Austronesian introductions

S. officinarum was first domesticated in New Guinea and the islands east of the Wallace Line by Papuans, where it is the modern center of diversity. Beginning around 6,000 BP, several strains were selectively bred from the native Saccharum robustum . From New Guinea, it spread westwards to Maritime Southeast Asia after contact with Austronesians, where it hybridized with Saccharum spontaneum . [12]

The second domestication center is mainland southern China and Taiwan, where S. sinense was a primary cultigen of the Austronesian peoples. Words for sugarcane are reconstructed as *təbuS or *CebuS in Proto-Austronesian, which became *tebuh in Proto-Malayo-Polynesian. It was one of the original major crops of the Austronesian peoples from at least 5,500 BP. Introduction of the sweeter S. officinarum may have gradually replaced it throughout its cultivated range in maritime Southeast Asia. [14] [15] [13] [16] [17]

The westward diffusion of sugarcane in pre-Islamic times (shown in red), in the medieval Muslim world (green), and in the 15th century by the Portuguese on the Madeira archipelago, and by the Spanish on the Canary Islands archipelago (islands west of Africa, circled by violet lines) Spread sugarcane.JPG
The westward diffusion of sugarcane in pre-Islamic times (shown in red), in the medieval Muslim world (green), and in the 15th century by the Portuguese on the Madeira archipelago, and by the Spanish on the Canary Islands archipelago (islands west of Africa, circled by violet lines)

From Island Southeast Asia, S. officinarum was spread eastward into Polynesia and Micronesia by Austronesian voyagers as a canoe plant by around 3,500 BP. It was also spread westward and northward by around 3,000 BP to China and India by Austronesian traders, where it further hybridized with S. sinense and S. barberi. From there, it spread further into western Eurasia and the Mediterranean. [12] [13]

The earliest known production of crystalline sugar began in northern India. The earliest evidence of sugar production comes from ancient Sanskrit and Pali texts. [19] [20] [21] [22] Around the eighth century, Muslim and Arab traders introduced sugar from medieval India to the other parts of the Abbasid Caliphate in the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Egypt, North Africa, and Andalusia. By the 10th century, sources state that every village in Mesopotamia grew sugarcane. [18] It was among the early crops brought to the Americas by the Spanish, mainly Andalusians, from their fields in the Canary Islands, and the Portuguese from their fields in the Madeira Islands. An article on sugarcane cultivation in Spain is included in Ibn al-'Awwam's 12th-century Book on Agriculture. [23]

In colonial times, sugar formed one side of the triangle trade of New World raw materials, along with European manufactured goods, and African slaves. Christopher Columbus first brought sugarcane to the Caribbean (and the New World) during his second voyage to the Americas, initially to the island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic). The first sugar harvest happened in Hispaniola in 1501; many sugar mills were constructed in Cuba and Jamaica by the 1520s. [24] The Portuguese introduced sugarcane to Brazil. By 1540, there were 800 cane sugar mills in Santa Catarina Island and another 2,000 on the north coast of Brazil, Demarara, and Suriname.[ citation needed ]

Sugar, often in the form of molasses, was shipped from the Caribbean to Europe or New England, where it was used to make rum. The profits from the sale of sugar were then used to purchase manufactured goods, which were then shipped to West Africa, where they were bartered for slaves. The slaves were then brought back to the Caribbean to be sold to sugar planters. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to buy more sugar, which was shipped to Europe. Toil in the sugar plantations became a main basis for a vast network of forced population movement, supplying people to work under brutal coercion.

Lithograph of a sugar plantation in the British colony of Antigua, 1823 The Mill Yard - Ten Views in the Island of Antigua (1823), plate V - BL.jpg
Lithograph of a sugar plantation in the British colony of Antigua, 1823
A sugar plantation on the island of Jamaica in the late 19th century Cane cutters, Jamaica, 1891.jpg
A sugar plantation on the island of Jamaica in the late 19th century

The passage of the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act led to the abolition of slavery through most of the British Empire, and many of the emancipated slaves no longer worked on sugarcane plantations when they had a choice. West Indian planters, therefore, needed new workers, and they found cheap labour in China and India. [25] [26] The people were subject to indenture, a long-established form of contract, which bound them to unfree labour for a fixed term. The conditions where the indentured servants worked were frequently abysmal, owing to a lack of care among the planters. [27] The first ships carrying indentured labourers from India left in 1836. [28] The migrations to serve sugarcane plantations led to a significant number of ethnic Indians, Southeast Asians, and Chinese people settling in various parts of the world. [29] In some islands and countries, the South Asian migrants now constitute between 10 and 50% of the population. Sugarcane plantations and Asian ethnic groups continue to thrive in countries such as Fiji, South Africa, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad, Martinique, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, St. Croix, Suriname, Nevis, and Mauritius. [28] [30]

Old-fashioned Indian sugarcane press, circa 1905 Old-fashioned Indian Sugar=cane Press.jpg
Old-fashioned Indian sugarcane press, circa 1905

Between 1863 and 1900, merchants and plantation owners in Queensland and New South Wales (now part of the Commonwealth of Australia) brought between 55,000 and 62,500 people from the South Pacific Islands to work on sugarcane plantations. An estimated one-third of these workers were coerced or kidnapped into slavery (known as blackbirding). Many others were paid very low wages. Between 1904 and 1908, most of the 10,000 remaining workers were deported in an effort to keep Australia racially homogeneous and protect white workers from cheap foreign labour. [31]

Cuban sugar derived from sugarcane was exported to the USSR, where it received price supports and was ensured a guaranteed market. The 1991 dissolution of the Soviet state forced the closure of most of Cuba's sugar industry.

Sugarcane remains an important part of the economy of Cuba, Guyana, Belize, Barbados, and Haiti, along with the Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, and other islands.

About 70% of the sugar produced globally comes from S. officinarum and hybrids using this species. [5]

A 19th-century lithograph by Theodore Bray showing a sugarcane plantation: On the right is the "white officer", the European overseer. Slave workers toil during the harvest. To the left is a flat-bottomed vessel for cane transportation. Tropenmuseum Royal Tropical Institute Objectnumber 3581-33h Ingekleurde litho voorstellende de oo (crop).jpg
A 19th-century lithograph by Theodore Bray showing a sugarcane plantation: On the right is the "white officer", the European overseer. Slave workers toil during the harvest. To the left is a flat-bottomed vessel for cane transportation.


Sugarcane plantation, Mauritius Sugarcane plantation in Mauritius (reduced colour saturation).jpg
Sugarcane plantation, Mauritius
Sugarcane plantation in Bangladesh Sugarcane fields.jpg
Sugarcane plantation in Bangladesh
Planting sugarcane in Puerto Rico Planting Sugar Cane in Puerto Rico.jpg
Planting sugarcane in Puerto Rico
Sugarcane fields Sugarcane field in Salem.jpg
Sugarcane fields

Sugarcane cultivation requires a tropical or subtropical climate, with a minimum of 60 cm (24 in) of annual moisture. It is one of the most efficient photosynthesizers in the plant kingdom. It is a C4 plant, able to convert up to 1% of incident solar energy into biomass. [32] In primary growing regions across the tropics and subtropics, sugarcane crops can produce over 15 kg/m2 of cane.

Sugar cane accounted for around 21% of the global crop production over the 2000–2021 period. The Americas was the leading region in the production of sugar cane (52% of the world total). [33]

Once a major crop of the southeastern region of the United States, sugarcane cultivation declined there during the late 20th century, and is primarily confined to small plantations in Florida, Louisiana, and southeast Texas in the 21st century. Sugarcane cultivation ceased in Hawaii when the last operating sugar plantation in the state shut down in 2016. [34]

Sugarcane is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics in areas with a plentiful supply of water for a continuous period of more than 6–7 months each year, either from natural rainfall or through irrigation. The crop does not tolerate severe frosts. Therefore, most of the world's sugarcane is grown between 22°N and 22°S, and some up to 33°N and 33°S. [35] When sugarcane crops are found outside this range, such as the Natal region of South Africa, it is normally due to anomalous climatic conditions in the region, such as warm ocean currents that sweep down the coast. In terms of altitude, sugarcane crops are found up to 1,600 m or 5,200 ft close to the equator in countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. [36]

Sugarcane can be grown on many soils ranging from highly fertile, well-drained mollisols, through heavy cracking vertisols, infertile acid oxisols and ultisols, peaty histosols, to rocky andisols. Both plentiful sunshine and water supplies increase cane production. This has made desert countries with good irrigation facilities such as Egypt some of the highest-yielding sugarcane-cultivating regions. Sugarcane consumes 9% of the world's potash fertilizer production. [37]

Although some sugarcanes produce seeds, modern stem cutting has become the most common reproduction method. [38] Each cutting must contain at least one bud, and the cuttings are sometimes hand-planted. In more technologically advanced countries, such as the United States and Australia, billet planting is common. Billets (stalks or stalk sections) harvested by a mechanical harvester are planted by a machine that opens and recloses the ground. Once planted, a stand can be harvested several times; after each harvest, the cane sends up new stalks, called ratoons. [39] Successive harvests give decreasing yields, eventually justifying replanting. Two to 10 harvests are usually made depending on the type of culture. In a country with a mechanical agriculture looking for a high production of large fields, as in North America, sugarcanes are replanted after two or three harvests to avoid a lowering yields. In countries with a more traditional type of agriculture with smaller fields and hand harvesting, as in the French island of Réunion, sugarcane is often harvested up to 10 years before replanting.[ citation needed ]

Sugarcane is harvested by hand and mechanically. Hand harvesting accounts for more than half of production, and is dominant in the developing world. In hand harvesting, the field is first set on fire. The fire burns up dry leaves, and chases away or kills venomous snakes, without harming the stalks and roots. Harvesters then cut the cane just above ground-level using cane knives or machetes. A skilled harvester can cut 500 kg (1,100 lb) of sugarcane per hour.[ failed verification ] [40]

Mechanical harvesting uses a combine, or sugarcane harvester. [41] The Austoft 7000 series, the original modern harvester design, has now been copied by other companies, including Cameco /  John Deere.[ citation needed ] The machine cuts the cane at the base of the stalk, strips the leaves, chops the cane into consistent lengths and deposits it into a transporter following alongside. The harvester then blows the trash back onto the field. Such machines can harvest 100 long tons (100 t) each hour, but harvested cane must be rapidly processed. Once cut, sugarcane begins to lose its sugar content, and damage to the cane during mechanical harvesting accelerates this decline. This decline is offset because a modern chopper harvester can complete the harvest faster and more efficiently than hand cutting and loading. Austoft also developed a series of hydraulic high-lift infield transporters to work alongside its harvesters to allow even more rapid transfer of cane to, for example, the nearest railway siding. This mechanical harvesting does not require the field to be set on fire; the residue left in the field by the machine consists of cane tops and dead leaves, which serve as mulch for the next planting.


The cane beetle (also known as cane grub) can substantially reduce crop yield by eating roots; it can be controlled with imidacloprid (Confidor) or chlorpyrifos (Lorsban). Other important pests are the larvae of some butterfly/moth species, including the turnip moth, the sugarcane borer (Diatraea saccharalis), the African sugarcane borer (Eldana saccharina), the Mexican rice borer ( Eoreuma loftini ), the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta), leafcutter ants, termites, spittlebugs (especially Mahanarva fimbriolata and Deois flavopicta ), and Migdolus fryanus (a beetle). The planthopper insect Eumetopina flavipes acts as a virus vector, which causes the sugarcane disease ramu stunt. [42] [43] Sesamia grisescens is a major pest in Papua New Guinea and so is a serious concern for the Australian industry were it to cross over. [44] To head off such a problem, the Federal Government has pre-announced that they would cover 80% of response costs if it were necessary. [44]


Numerous pathogens infect sugarcane, such as sugarcane grassy shoot disease caused by Candidatus Phytoplasma sacchari, [45] whiptail disease or sugarcane smut, pokkah boeng caused by Fusarium moniliforme , Xanthomonas axonopodis bacteria causes Gumming Disease, and red rot disease caused by Colletotrichum falcatum . Viral diseases affecting sugarcane include sugarcane mosaic virus, maize streak virus, and sugarcane yellow leaf virus. [46]

Yang et al., 2017 provides a genetic map developed for USDA ARS-run breeding programs for brown rust of sugarcane. [47]

Nitrogen fixation

Some sugarcane varieties are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen in association with the bacterium Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus . [48] Unlike legumes and other nitrogen-fixing plants that form root nodules in the soil in association with bacteria, G. diazotrophicus lives within the intercellular spaces of the sugarcane's stem. [49] [50] Coating seeds with the bacteria was assayed in 2006 with the intention of enabling crop species to fix nitrogen for its own use. [51]

Conditions for sugarcane workers

At least 20,000 people are estimated to have died of chronic kidney disease in Central America in the past two decades – most of them sugarcane workers along the Pacific coast. This may be due to working long hours in the heat without adequate fluid intake. [52] Additionally, some of the workers are being exposed to hazards such as: high temperatures, harmful pesticides, and poisonous or venomous animals. This occurs during the process of cutting the sugarcane manually, causing physical ailments due to constant repetitive movements for hours every work day. [53]


Non-centrifugal cane sugar (jaggery) production near Inle Lake (Myanmar), crushing and boiling stage

Traditionally, sugarcane processing requires two stages. Mills extract raw sugar from freshly harvested cane and "mill-white" sugar is sometimes produced immediately after the first stage at sugar-extraction mills, intended for local consumption. Sugar crystals appear naturally white in color during the crystallization process. Sulfur dioxide is added to inhibit the formation of color-inducing molecules and to stabilize the sugar juices during evaporation. [54] [55] Refineries, often located nearer to consumers in North America, Europe, and Japan, then produce refined white sugar, which is 99% sucrose. These two stages are slowly merging. Increasing affluence in the sugarcane-producing tropics increases demand for refined sugar products, driving a trend toward combined milling and refining. [56]


Manually extracting juice from sugarcane Sugarcane drink.JPG
Manually extracting juice from sugarcane
A truck hauls cane to a sugar mill in Florida. Cane-truck-1.JPG
A truck hauls cane to a sugar mill in Florida.

Sugarcane processing produces cane sugar (sucrose) from sugarcane. Other products of the processing include bagasse, molasses, and filtercake.

Bagasse, the residual dry fiber of the cane after cane juice has been extracted, is used for several purposes: [57]

Santa Elisa sugarcane processing plant in Sertaozinho, one of the largest and oldest in Brazil UsinaSantaElisa.jpg
Santa Elisa sugarcane processing plant in Sertãozinho, one of the largest and oldest in Brazil

The primary use of bagasse and bagasse residue is as a fuel source for the boilers in the generation of process steam in sugar plants. Dried filtercake is used as an animal feed supplement, fertilizer, and source of sugarcane wax.[ citation needed ]

Molasses is produced in two forms: blackstrap, which has a characteristic strong flavor, and a purer molasses syrup. Blackstrap molasses is sold as a food and dietary supplement. It is also a common ingredient in animal feed, and is used to produce ethanol, rum, and citric acid. Purer molasses syrups are sold as molasses, and may also be blended with maple syrup, invert sugars, or corn syrup. Both forms of molasses are used in baking.[ citation needed ]


Sa brownsugar.jpg
Sugar 2xmacro.jpg
Brown and white sugar crystals

Sugar refining further purifies the raw sugar. It is first mixed with heavy syrup and then centrifuged in a process called "affination". Its purpose is to wash away the sugar crystals' outer coating, which is less pure than the crystal interior. The remaining sugar is then dissolved to make a syrup, about 60% solids by weight.

The sugar solution is clarified by the addition of phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide, which combine to precipitate calcium phosphate. The calcium phosphate particles entrap some impurities and absorb others, and then float to the top of the tank, where they can be skimmed off. An alternative to this "phosphatation" technique is "carbonatation", which is similar, but uses carbon dioxide and calcium hydroxide to produce a calcium carbonate precipitate.

After filtering any remaining solids, the clarified syrup is decolorized by filtration through activated carbon. Bone char or coal-based activated carbon is traditionally used in this role. [58] Some remaining color-forming impurities are adsorbed by the carbon. The purified syrup is then concentrated to supersaturation and repeatedly crystallized in a vacuum, to produce white refined sugar. As in a sugar mill, the sugar crystals are separated from the molasses by centrifuging. Additional sugar is recovered by blending the remaining syrup with the washings from affination and again crystallizing to produce brown sugar. When no more sugar can be economically recovered, the final molasses still contains 20–30% sucrose and 15–25% glucose and fructose.

To produce granulated sugar, in which individual grains do not clump, sugar must be dried, first by heating in a rotary dryer, and then by blowing cool air through it for several days.

Ribbon cane syrup

Ribbon cane is a subtropical type that was once widely grown in the Southern United States, as far north as coastal North Carolina. The juice was extracted with horse- or mule-powered crushers; the juice was boiled, like maple syrup, in a flat pan, and then used in the syrup form as a food sweetener. [59] It is not currently a commercial crop, but a few growers find ready sales for their product.[ citation needed ]

Production of sugarcane (2019) Production of sugar cane (2019).svg
Production of sugarcane (2019)


Top Sugarcane producers
in 2020
Numbers in million tonnes
1. Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil 757.1 (40.49%)
2. Flag of India.svg  India 370.5 (19.82%)
3. Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 108.1 (5.78%)
4. Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan 81 (4.33%)
5. Flag of Thailand.svg  Thailand 75 (4.01%)
6. Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico 54 (2.89%)
7. Flag of the United States (23px).png  United States 32.7 (1.75%)
8. Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 30 (1.6%)

World total1,869.7
Source: FAOSTAT [61]

In 2020, global production of sugarcane was 1.87 billion tonnes, with Brazil producing 40% of the world total, India with 20%, and China producing 6% (table).

Worldwide, 26 million hectares were devoted to sugarcane cultivation in 2020. [61] The average worldwide yield of sugarcane crops in 2020 was 71 tonnes per hectare, led by Peru with 123 tonnes per hectare. [61] The theoretical possible yield for sugarcane is about 280 tonnes per hectare per year, and small experimental plots in Brazil have demonstrated yields of 236–280 tonnes of cane per hectare. [62] [63]

From 2008 to 2016, production of standards-compliant sugarcane experienced a compound annual growth rate of about 52%, while conventional sugarcane increased at less than 1%. [64]

Environmental impacts

Soil degradation and erosion

The cultivation of sugarcane can lead to increased soil loss through the removal of soil at harvest, as well as improper irrigation practices, which can result in erosion. [65] [66] Erosion is especially significant when the sugarcane is grown on slopes or hillsides, which increases the rate of water runoff. [65] [66] Generally, it is recommended that sugarcane is not planted in areas with a slope greater than 8%. [65] However, in certain areas, such as parts of the Caribbean and South Africa, slopes greater than 20% have been planted. [65] Increased erosion can lead to the removal of organic and nutrient-rich material, which can decrease future crop yields. It can also result in sediments and other pollutants being washed into aquatic habitats, which can result in a wide range of environmental issues, including eutrophication and acidification. [65] [66]

Sugarcane cultivation can also result in soil compaction, which is caused by the use of heavy, infield machinery. [65] Along with impacting invertebrate and fauna within the upper layers of the soil, compaction can also lead to decreased porosity. [65] [66] This in turn can increase surface runoff, resulting in greater leaching and erosion. [65]

Habitat destruction

Gases produced from sugarcane processing. Starr-160324-0644-Saccharum officinarum-sugar mill smoke stacks last harvest season-Puunene-Maui (26861749342).jpg
Gases produced from sugarcane processing.

Due to the large quantity of water required, sugarcane cultivation heavily relies on irrigation. [67] Additionally, since large amounts of soil are removed with the crop during harvest, significant washing occurs during the processing phase. [67] In many countries, such as India and Australia, this requirement has placed a strain on available resources, requiring the construction of barrages and other dams. [65] [67] This has altered the amount of water reaching aquatic habitats, and has contributed to the degradation of ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and Indus Delta. [65] [67]

Land cleared for sugarcane production. US Navy 100219-N-9643W-340 Haitian children carry sugarcane across a field as Sailors from Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 2 clear land for a construction site.jpg
Land cleared for sugarcane production.

Sugarcane has also contributed to habitat destruction through the clearance of land. [65] Seven countries around the world devote more than 50% of their land to the cultivation of sugarcane. [65] Sugarcane fields have replaced tropical rain forests and wetlands. [65] While the majority of this clearance occurred in the past, expansions have occurred within the past couple decades, further contributing to habitat destruction. [66]

Mitigation efforts

A wide variety of mitigation efforts can be implemented to reduce the impacts of sugarcane cultivation. [65] Among these efforts is switching to alternative irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation, which are more water efficient. [65] Water efficiency can also be improved by employing methods such as trash mulching, which has been shown to increase water intake and storage. [65] [68] Along with reducing the overall water use, this method can also decrease soil runoff, and therefore prevent pollutants from entering the environment. [65] In areas with a slope greater than 11%, it is also recommended that zero tillage or cane strip planting are implemented to help prevent soil loss. [65]

Sugarcane processing produces a wide variety of pollutants, including heavy metals and bagasse, which can be released into the environment through wastewater discharge. [65] To prevent this, alternative treatment methods such as high rate anaerobic digestions can be implemented to better treat this wastewater. [69] Stormwater drains can also be installed to prevent uncontrolled runoff from reaching aquatic ecosystems. [65]


A fuel pump in Brazil, offering cane ethanol (A) and gasoline (G) Sao Paulo ethanol pump 04 2008 74 zoom.jpg
A fuel pump in Brazil, offering cane ethanol (A) and gasoline (G)

Ethanol is generally available as a byproduct of sugar production. It can be used as a biofuel alternative to gasoline, and is widely used in cars in Brazil. It is an alternative to gasoline, and may become the primary product of sugarcane processing, rather than sugar[ citation needed ]

In Brazil, gasoline is required to contain at least 22% bioethanol. [70] This bioethanol is sourced from Brazil's large sugarcane crop.

The production of ethanol from sugarcane is more energy efficient than from corn or sugar beets or palm/vegetable oils, particularly if cane bagasse is used to produce heat and power for the process. Furthermore, if biofuels are used for crop production and transport, the fossil energy input needed for each ethanol energy unit can be very low. EIA estimates that with an integrated sugarcane to ethanol technology, the well-to-wheels CO2 emissions can be 90% lower than conventional gasoline. [70] A textbook on renewable energy [71] describes the energy transformation:

Presently, 75 tons of raw sugarcane are produced annually per hectare in Brazil. The cane delivered to the processing plant is called burned and cropped (b&c), and represents 77% of the mass of the raw cane. The reason for this reduction is that the stalks are separated from the leaves (which are burned and whose ashes are left in the field as fertilizer), and from the roots that remain in the ground to sprout for the next crop. Average cane production is, therefore, 58 tons of b&c per hectare per year.

Each ton of b&c yields 740 kg of juice (135 kg of sucrose and 605 kg of water) and 260 kg of moist bagasse (130 kg of dry bagasse). Since the lower heating value of sucrose is 16.5 MJ/kg, and that of the bagasse is 19.2 MJ/kg, the total heating value of a ton of b&c is 4.7 GJ of which 2.2 GJ come from the sucrose and 2.5 from the bagasse.

Per hectare per year, the biomass produced corresponds to 0.27 TJ. This is equivalent to 0.86 W per square meter. Assuming an average insolation of 225 W per square meter, the photosynthetic efficiency of sugar cane is 0.38%.

The 135 kg of sucrose found in 1 ton of b&c are transformed into 70 litres of ethanol with a combustion energy of 1.7 GJ. The practical sucrose-ethanol conversion efficiency is, therefore, 76% (compare with the theoretical 97%).

One hectare of sugar cane yields 4,000 litres of ethanol per year (without any additional energy input, because the bagasse produced exceeds the amount needed to distill the final product). This, however, does not include the energy used in tilling, transportation, and so on. Thus, the solar energy-to-ethanol conversion efficiency is 0.13%.

Bagasse applications

Sugarcane bagasse Sugarcane bagasse.jpg
Sugarcane bagasse

Sugarcane is a major crop in many countries. It is one of the plants with the highest bioconversion efficiency. Sugarcane crop is able to efficiently fix solar energy, yielding some 55 tonnes of dry matter per hectare of land annually. After harvest, the crop produces sugar juice and bagasse, the fibrous dry matter. This dry matter is biomass with potential as fuel for energy production. Bagasse can also be used as an alternative source of pulp for paper production. [72]

Sugarcane bagasse is a potentially abundant source of energy for large producers of sugarcane, such as Brazil, India, and China. According to one report, with use of latest technologies, bagasse produced annually in Brazil has the potential of meeting 20% of Brazil's energy consumption by 2020. [73]

Electricity production

A number of countries, in particular those lacking fossil fuels, have implemented energy conservation and efficiency measures to minimize the energy used in cane processing, and export any excess electricity to the grid. Bagasse is usually burned to produce steam, which in turn creates electricity. Current technologies, such as those in use in Mauritius, produce over 100 kWh of electricity per tonne of bagasse. With a total world harvest of over one billion tonnes of sugarcane per year, the global energy potential from bagasse is over 100,000 GWh. [74] Using Mauritius as a reference, an annual potential of 10,000 GWh of additional electricity could be produced throughout Africa. [75] Electrical generation from bagasse could become quite important, particularly to the rural populations of sugarcane producing nations.

Recent cogeneration technology plants are being designed to produce from 200 to over 300 kWh of electricity per tonne of bagasse. [76] [77] As sugarcane is a seasonal crop, shortly after harvest the supply of bagasse would peak, requiring power generation plants to strategically manage the storage of bagasse.

Biogas production

A greener alternative to burning bagasse for the production of electricity is to convert bagasse into biogas. Technologies are being developed to use enzymes to transform bagasse into advanced biofuel and biogas. [73]

Sugarcane as food

Cane juice [78]
Freshly squeezed sugarcane juice
Nutritional value per 100 grams
Energy 242 kJ (58 kcal)
13.11 g
Sugars 12.85 g
Dietary fiber 0.56 g
0.16 g
Vitamins Quantity
Vitamin B6
0.40 mg
Folate (B9)
44.53 μg
Vitamin C
6.73 mg
Minerals Quantity
18 mg
1.12 mg
13.03 mg
22.08 mg
150 mg
1.16 mg
0.14 mg

Nutrient Information from Indian Food Composition Database
Percentages estimated using US recommendations for adults. [79]

In most countries where sugarcane is cultivated, several foods and popular dishes are derived directly from it, such as:

Sugarcane as feed

Many parts of the sugarcane are commonly used as animal feeds where the plants are cultivated. The leaves make a good forage for ruminants. [81]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sugar</span> Sweet-tasting, water-soluble carbohydrates

Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. Simple sugars, also called monosaccharides, include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Compound sugars, also called disaccharides or double sugars, are molecules made of two bonded monosaccharides; common examples are sucrose, lactose, and maltose. White sugar is a refined form of sucrose. In the body, compound sugars are hydrolysed into simple sugars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sugar beet</span> Plant grown commercially for sugar production

A sugar beet is a plant whose root contains a high concentration of sucrose and which is grown commercially for sugar production. In plant breeding, it is known as the Altissima cultivar group of the common beet. Together with other beet cultivars, such as beetroot and chard, it belongs to the subspecies Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris but classified as var. saccharifera . Its closest wild relative is the sea beet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sucrose</span> Disaccharide made of glucose and fructose

Sucrose, a disaccharide, is a sugar composed of glucose and fructose subunits. It is produced naturally in plants and is the main constituent of white sugar. It has the molecular formula C

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Molasses</span> Viscous by-product of the refining of sugarcane, grapes, or sugar beets into sugar

Molasses is a viscous substance, principally obtained from the refining of sugarcane or sugar beet juice into sugar. Molasses varies in the amount of sugar, the method of extraction and the age of the plant. Sugarcane molasses is usually used to sweeten and flavour foods. Molasses is a major constituent of fine commercial brown sugar. It is also one of the main ingredients used to distill rum.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Refinery</span> Production facility for processing raw materials

A refinery is a production facility composed of a group of chemical engineering unit processes and unit operations refining certain materials or converting raw material into products of value.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jaggery</span> Unrefined cane sugar

Jaggery is a traditional non-centrifugal cane sugar consumed in the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Central America, Pakistan, Brazil and Africa. It is a concentrated product of cane juice and often date or palm sap without separation of the molasses and crystals, and can vary from golden brown to dark brown in colour. It contains up to 50% sucrose, up to 20% invert sugars, and up to 20% moisture, with the remainder made up of other insoluble matter, such as wood ash, proteins, and bagasse fibres. Jaggery is very similar to muscovado, an important sweetener in Portuguese, British and French cuisine. The Kenyan Sukari ngutu/nguru has no fibre; it is dark and is made from sugarcane and also sometimes extracted from palm tree.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bagasse</span> Residue of sugar cane after juice extraction

Bagasse is the dry pulpy fibrous material that remains after crushing sugarcane or sorghum stalks to extract their juice. It is used as a biofuel for the production of heat, energy, and electricity, and in the manufacture of pulp and building materials. Agave bagasse is similar, but is the material remnants after extracting blue agave sap.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sweet sorghum</span> Any of the varieties of the sorghum plant with a high sugar content

Sweet sorghum is any of the many varieties of the sorghum grass whose stalks have a high sugar content. Sweet sorghum thrives better under drier and warmer conditions than many other crops and is grown primarily for forage, silage, and syrup production.

Mitr Phol Group is Thailand's and Asia's biggest sugar and bio-energy producer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethanol fuel in Brazil</span>

Brazil is the world's second largest producer of ethanol fuel. Brazil and the United States have led the industrial production of ethanol fuel for several years, together accounting for 85 percent of the world's production in 2017. Brazil produced 26.72 billion liters, representing 26.1 percent of the world's total ethanol used as fuel in 2017.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vinasse</span> Byproduct of the sugar or ethanol industry

Vinasse is a byproduct of the sugar or ethanol industry. Sugarcane or sugar beet is processed to produce crystalline sugar, pulp and molasses. The latter are further processed by fermentation to ethanol, ascorbic acid or other products. Juice sugarcane can also be processed directly by ethanol fermentation. After the removal of the desired product the remaining material is called vinasse. Vinasse is sold after a partial dehydration and usually has a viscosity comparable to molasses. Commercially offered vinasse comes either from sugar cane and is called cane-vinasse or from sugar beet and is called beet-vinasse. Vinasse produced from sugar cane is also called dunder.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of sugar</span>

The history of sugar has five main phases:

  1. The extraction of sugar cane juice from the sugarcane plant, and the subsequent domestication of the plant in tropical India and Southeast Asia sometime around 4,000 BC.
  2. The invention of manufacture of cane sugar granules from sugarcane juice in India a little over two thousand years ago, followed by improvements in refining the crystal granules in India in the early centuries AD.
  3. The spread of cultivation and manufacture of cane sugar to the medieval Islamic world together with some improvements in production methods.
  4. The spread of cultivation and manufacture of cane sugar to the West Indies and tropical parts of the Americas beginning in the 16th century, followed by more intensive improvements in production in the 17th through 19th centuries in that part of the world.
  5. The development of beet sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners in the 19th and 20th centuries.
<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sugarcane mill</span> Factory that processes sugar cane to produce raw or white sugar

A sugar cane mill is a factory that processes sugar cane to produce raw sugar or plantation white sugar. Some sugar mills are situated next to a back-end refinery, that turns raw sugar into (refined) white sugar.

<i>Saccharum officinarum</i> Species of plant

Saccharum officinarum is a large, strong-growing species of grass in the sugarcane genus. Its stout stalks are rich in sucrose, a disaccharide sugar which accumulates in the stalk internodes. It originated in New Guinea, and is now cultivated in tropical and subtropical countries worldwide for the production of sugar, ethanol and other products.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">McIntosh Sugarworks</span> United States historic place

The McIntosh Sugarworks, near St. Marys, Georgia, was built in the late 1820s by John Houstoun McIntosh. They are a significant example of tabby concrete architecture and represent an industrial component of southeastern plantation agriculture. The Tabby Ruins, as they are also known, are at 3600 Charlie Smith Sr. Highway at Georgia Spur 40, six miles north of St. Marys. The entrance is approximately across the street from the entrance to the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, on Charlie Smith Highway, at 30.79310°N 81.57712°W.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Non-centrifugal cane sugar</span> Traditional raw sugar obtained by evaporating water from sugarcane juice

Non-centrifugal cane sugar (NCS) is the technical name given to traditional raw sugar obtained by evaporating water from sugarcane juice. NCS is internationally recognized as a discrete and unique product by the FAO since 1964 and by the World Customs Organization (WCO) since 2007. WCO defines NCS as "cane sugar obtained without centrifugation". It also states that "the product contains only natural anhedral micro-crystals, of irregular shape, not visible to the naked eye, which are surrounded by molasses' residues and other constituents of sugar cane". NCS is produced in most sugarcane-growing regions of the world, being known by many different names such as panela, jaggery, or gur. Some varieties of muscovado are non-centrifugal.

Sugarcane is the only crop cultivated in Sri Lanka for manufacture of sugar. This crop can be growth on well drained soil up to an elevation of about 1,000 m (3,300 ft). Sugarcane has been cultivated in Sri Lanka since 19th century. About three decades ago, in the 1970s Sri Lanka was cultivated in about 25,000 ha. There were 3,840 ha in Kantale, 5,660 ha in Hingurana, 4,500 ha in Pelwatte, 4,680 ha in Seveanagala and 5,700 ha in Moneragala. At present, only Pelwatta and Sevanagala factories are functioning. Cultivation at Hingurana has started and it is likely that the factory will start production in 2010. Most of the lands cultivated with sugarcane are in the intermediate zone. Receiving annual rainfall of 1,250–2,000 mm (49–79 in) distributed in a bimodal pattern.

<i>Saccharum sinense</i> Species of grass

Saccharum sinense or Saccharum × sinense, synonym Saccharum × barberi, sugarcane, is strong-growing species of grass (Poaceae) in the genus Saccharum. It is originally cultivated in Guangzhou, China where it is still commonly grown. It is a more primitive form of sugarcane with a hybrid origin from Saccharum officinarum and Saccharum spontaneum species of cane. A number of clones exists that are often included in the S. officinarum species as the Pansahi group. The most notable member of which is the Uba variety of cane. They are a perennial plant that grows in erect clumps that can reach up to 5 meters in height and have a red cane with a diameter of 15 mm to 30 mm.

The sugar industry of the United States produces sugarcane and sugar beets, operates sugar refineries, and produces and markets refined sugars, sugar-sweetened goods, and other products. The United States is among the world's largest sugar producers. Unlike most other sugar producing countries, the United States has both large and well-developed sugarcane and sugar beet industries. Refined sugarcane, processed sugar beet, and high-fructose corn syrup are all commonly used in the U.S. as added sugars to sweeten food and beverages.


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