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Reunion sugar campaign

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Reunion sugar campaign

Sugar farming: Reunion’s agricultural mainstay

Reunion, a tourist paradise, is rich in natural and cultural treasures. With its extensive coastline, sugar cane cultivation plays an important role in the local agricultural economy. Reunion’s sugar harvest combines tradition, festivity, and technological progress.

Sugar cane is a key factor in the local economy

In 2021, sugar cane cultivation, along with its 3,400 farms, covered 23,000 hectares, representing the majority of the island’s arable land. Given its industrial importance, this significant production deserves an economic policy geared toward this activity. Sugarcane, also known as the « pivot crop » plays a crucial social role. This seasonal activity provides a stable income and 18,300 direct and indirect jobs. In addition to sugar cane, co-products provide valuable income. Pivot crops support the production of alcohol (rum, punch) and molasses. Bagasse also supplies the island’s two thermal power plants with 45 % of the electricity consumed in metropolitan France. Sugarcane cultivation also has a positive impact on the environment, protecting the soil from erosion and recycling CO₂.

Is sugar harvest under threat?

The sugar campaign in Reunion begins with the cool season and lasts for 20 weeks, culminating in the big harvest at the end of November. However, similar to 2022, the 2023 sugar campaign starts a month later, around 26 July. The South and West basins started on 31 July, while the East and North basins started on 3 August, due to the adjustments required by the energy transition at the Bois Rouge plant in Saint André and the Gol plant in Saint Louis, which are switching from coal to biomass.

As a result, production forecasts are unfortunately as bleak as last year. Frédéric Vienne, president of the Green Chamber, fears a negative impact on their cash flow. In 2022, only 1.3 million tons of sugar cane will be harvested. The local agricultural mainstay has suffered from the onslaught of climatic hazards, the consequent loss of 3,000 hectares of plantations, and the inflation of production costs.

Preventive measures to revive the pivot crop

Faced with the threat and disaster of 2022, Frédéric Vienne lowered the price of phytosanitary production throughout the country. The President of the Chamber of Agriculture of Reunion also called for recognition of the agricultural disaster, which will be confirmed in December 2022. A relief’ for producers, Frédéric Vienne explains, « they will be able to benefit from the aid fund, the conditions of which will be defined by the DAAF, the Directorate of Food, Agriculture, and Forestry, and by a decree ». Given the delay in this year’s sugar campaign, the farmer is calling on the Interprofessional Sugar Cane to immediately release the remaining production aid for 2021. Frédéric Vienne is also calling for an increase in the price of sugar of around 3 EUR per ton to give farmers a little breathing space.

However, the Green Chamber of the Department of Reunion is reviving sensitive issues relating to agricultural land. In particular, departmental commissions are discussing building permits on agricultural land to preserve natural agricultural and forest areas.

Tradition to honor the ancestors

There is still a glimmer of hope for farmers in Reunion. This year, sugar cane growers in the south of the island are taking part in the ritual of the « baptism of the knives », an interfaith ceremony blessed by priests and Tamils. After the blessing and official speeches, a procession of tractors, led by an ox cart, passes by.

The previous year, the tradition had been abandoned due to the late start and the signing of the sugarcane agreement. It is important to maintain this tradition to honor the planters’ ancestors, to bless the tools, and to guarantee a bountiful harvest.

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