in San Pedro de Macoris
Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum L) is a tropical grass of significant economic benefit for the countries in which it is grown. It is characterized by a solid stem of 2 to 5 meters in height with a diameter of 5 to 6 centimeters, without branching. The root system consists of a robust underground rhizome, whereas the stalk is composed of two different sections.The first is a spongy and sweet tissue in its core, from which a juice rich in sucrose is extracted and becomes sugar when crystallized; the second is peripheral, rich in fiber and during the extraction process it will form part of the sugarcane bagasse, processed for a wide variety of uses. Sucrose is crystallized by sugarcane as a result of the energy received from sunlight, during photosynthesis. This plant, grown annually in warm regions, is characterized by a rapid sprouting capacity.
The importance of the nutritional composition relies on the juice of its stem, from where sugar is extracted. The amount of sugar depends on the sucrose level, which varies according to the crop type and plant variety, fluctuating between 8% and 15% of the content. The other stem components are: 73% -76% water, and 11% -16% fiber. Sugar is the base of syrup and it forms part of the composition for alcohol, pastries, molasses, marmalade, juice beverages and soft drinks.
Sugarcane has many other alternative uses including fuel production (ethanol); the use of the bagasse for energy generation; bagasse for furfural, for the production of plastic and explosives, among many other versatile uses. Molasses for making rum and for livestock feed is also produced. Paper and wood are processed from the bagasse. Acid is produced from sugarcane, as are numerous pharmaceuticals, and it is also used for a variety of industrial applications.
Sugarcane is one of the most ancient crops in the world. Its cultivation is traced to three millennia BC, on the isle of New Guinea. From there, it expanded to Borneo, Sumatra and India. The Greek general, Niarchus, who joined Alexander the Great in India during the 4th century BC, spoke of a cane that produced “honey” without the help of bees. Subsequently, it arrived in Persia, where the Arabs discovered it in the 7th century. From there, it was taken to southern Spain, where its cultivation was developed during the Moorish domination. It is known that Christopher Columbus introduced sugarcane in America on his second voyage (1493) to the isle of Hispaniola. The success of the sugarcane plantations of Santo Domingo expanded the crop throughout the Caribbean and South America. In the 16th century, production and trade were extended worldwide.
Sugarcane does not tolerate very low temperatures. For its development and growth, the optimal temperature ranges between 32 to 38 degrees Celsius. To increase its growth rate, it is necessary that relative humidity be high. It is a plant that requires and assimilates solar radiation, achieving a conversion of up to two percent (2%) of the incident energy into biomass. Annual hydric requirements range between 1,200 to 1,500 millimeters.
There are three sugarcane varieties, distinguished by their color: green and yellow, burgundy and striped or mottled reeds. The greenish yellow cane, Saccharum officinarum, is plentiful in juice and sucrose content. However, this type is very sensitive to extreme temperatures. Within this type, is the crystalline cane, Saccharum lubridatium, a robust variety with greater resistance to adverse weather conditions, but very rough, demanding a much higher energy expenditure in the milling process. The burgundy variety, Saccharum violaceum, features stems with violet coloring and the advantage of greater resistance to low temperatures, but its cane tends to dry quickly and is thus less juicy. The mottled variety, Saccharum versicolor, reaches a height of approximately 3.5 meters and resists colder temperatures.
Scientific cultivation of sugarcane needs to begin with the appropriate selection of a variety. This selection takes into account the agro climate crop zone, soil type, the irrigation system, fragility in transportation, and crop season. In virtually all the sugarcane producer countries, a selection of enhanced varieties have been developed, specifically adapted to the conditions of each country. In the Dominican Republic, enhanced varieties are developed with excellent outcome.
Sugarcane planting and production in the Dominican Republic
The history of the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic dates back to circa 1505. The first sugar mill that produced sugarcane commercially was built in San Cristóbal in 1517 and exported sugar to Spain. By 1520, three sugar mills were already in operation. 19 sugar mills were fully operational by 1527 and 6 juicing mills (trapiches), the majority located along the riverbanks of the Ozama, Haina, Nizao, Ocoa and Yaque del Sur rivers. Inland sugar production was maintained until 1570, when it began to decrease due to a reduction in Spanish navigation, contraband and other factors.
Between the years 1874 and 1880, Cuban and North American immigrants built the first steam-operated sugar refinery, and the great sugarcane plantations were organized. By the end of the 19th century, the principal sugarcane processing facilities were in the hands of foreign investors. Furthermore, the plantations expanded mainly across the eastern inland region, in the provinces of San Pedro de Macorís, La Romana, La Altagracia and El Seibo, as well as in Barahona, the National District and Puerto Plata. The great boom of the Dominican sugar industry continued for many decades and sugar production served as the main economic activity of the country.
According to the National Sugar Institute (INAZUCAR), during the 2011-2012 harvest, 4.9 million metric tons of sugarcane were milled between November and June. During the harvest, sugar production was 553,717 metric tons. 33.8 million U.S. gallons of molasses and 28.2 metric tons of furfural were also produced. In this period, raw sugar exports reached 218,606 metric tons, exported mainly to the U.S market, at a value of US$146.8 million. Molasses exports equaled 15.6 million U.S. gallons for a total of US$15.3 million and 28,924 metric tons of furfural at a value of US$19.1 million. Therefore, the total exportation of sugar and its byproducts reached US$181.5 million, thus comprising the second foremost agricultural export, after bananas.