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AZUCAR by Elizabeth Solis. Race, Poverty and the Environment Professor Raquel R Pinderhughes Urban Studies Program San Francisco State University Spring 2003. sugarcane.html. Public has permission to use the material herein,

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azucar by elizabeth solis

AZUCAR by Elizabeth Solis

Race, Poverty and the Environment

Professor Raquel R Pinderhughes

Urban Studies Program

San Francisco State University

Spring 2003 sugarcane.html

Public has permission to use the material herein,

but only if author(s), course, university and professor are credited.

to begin
To Begin:

This presentation will focus on Sugar.

I will be taking you through the lifecycle of sugar, paying particular attention to the social, environmental and public health impacts of the processes associated with sugar.

Debt-Bondage, Sugar Cane Cutter

brief sugar history
Brief Sugar History

Sugar is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. It is believed to have started life as a type of grass some 3,000 years ago in what is now known as New Guinea. It requires a tropical climate to thrive and is found mostly in equatorial zones.

Sugarcane culture and cultivation as we know it spread along migration routes along Southeast Asia, Polynesia, and India.

It arrived in the Americas with Columbus on his second voyage to the “New World”. By the mid 16th century the sugar industry was completely dependant on black slave labor.




where is sugar located
Where is Sugar located?

Currently, sugar is being produced in 120 countries worldwide. It is one of the most heavily traded commodities.


Sugar cane requires a tropical climate to grow.

Most of it is cultivated between latitudes 30º S and 30º N.


community dependence
Community Dependence

For the most part sugarcane is grown in rural areas as a monoculture. This destroys local ecosystems and native forage.

Surrounding communities are usually dependant on the sugarcane plantation for employment.

Many countries are dependant on sugarcane for economic stability being that it is their leading export. mauritiusAgriculture.htm

conditions of workers
Conditions of Workers:

Sugar cane workers live and work in some of the poorest conditions imaginable. Some of the conditions found in Haitian bateyes (cane communities) are as follows:

“Latrines are usually not available. Potable water is rare. Electricity, a luxury. Dirt roads become muddy lakes when it rains and entire bateyes are often cut off from the outside world -and food and water- for days at a time. Where sanitary services are available, they generally have been built by non-governmental organizations, not the government . . . Inside the bateyes, health care is almost non-existent. In some bateyes non-governmental organizations have set up rustic medical clinics, but a physician is usually available only one day per week . . . Access to education is also hard. Where state primary schools exist, Dominican-Haitian children with proper documentation attend. Children of Haitian parents who have not been registered as Dominican citizens are denied access . . .” (National Coalition for Haitian Rights, "Beyond the Bateyes").


conditions of workers continued
Conditions of Workers (continued) :

In order to maximize profits the sugar industry tries to guarantee the rights of workers be repressed. It is advantageous for the industry when workers are unable to organize.

how is sugar cane harvested
How is Sugar Cane Harvested?

Sugar cane is harvested by chopping down the stems but leaving the roots so that it re-grows in time for the next crop. Harvest times tend to be during the dry season and the length of the harvest ranges from as little as 2 ½ months up to 11 months. The cane is taken to the factory: often by truck or rail wagon but sometimes on a cart pulled by a bullock or a donkey. (

sugar extraction
Sugar Extraction

Sugar canes are weighed and washed before they are juiced. Then they are sent through crushers and then into the mill. The juice is collected and it is clarified to remove mud and separate any material found different from sucrose. refiningcane.html

This is then followed by an evaporation process to prepare the syrup. Once it is in syrup form it is crystallized to separate out the liquor, and centrifuged to separate molasses from the crystals.


how are communities workers and the environment impacted by these extractive processes
Production of sugar cane in many countries has moved to marginal areas removing natural rainforests, mangroves, and other sensitive environments. Cane production is usually associated with reduced wildlife biodiversity, water pollution, and soil erosion.

Sugar cane is often cultivated in an environmentally irresponsible manner, including the careless use of pesticides and fertilizers, poor management of irrigation, air pollution form burning cane, and damage to coral reefs.

How are communities, workers and the environment impacted by these extractive processes?


Typical environmental impacts caused by sugar manufacture are wastewater, gaseous emissions, and solid waste.


impacts continued
The industry also generates a liquid waste known as “vinasse” It is highly acidic and contains high amounts of organic matter that upon oxidation can deprive the surrounding environment of oxygen. Marine communities directly affected by such wastes are destroyed.

In addition to “vinasse” the extraction process of sugar produces high amounts of a fibrous material known as bagasses. Bagassosis is a recognized occupational lung disease caused by spores of moldy bagasse.

Impacts continued…



sugar uses

Sugar Cane supports a variety of uses and products in the energy, industrial, and agricultural sectors, based on different resource streams: sugars, molasses/juice, and crop residues.

Sugar uses:



There are 20 major sugar producing countries. With the exception of India, China, U.S.A., Russia, and Japan, the other sugar producing countries export most of their crops. As I mentioned before, sugar is one of the most heavily traded commodities in the world.

The U.S is the world’s largest consumer of natural sweeteners and one of the world’s largest importers of sugar.



what is the purpose of sugar
What is the purpose of sugar?

I found over 70 types of sugar and endless amounts of uses. In addition to its uses in our everyday consumption, sugar is also recommended for newborns to reduce the pain of medical tests, a remedy to cure hiccups, and a way to keep cut flowers fresh.

But sugar is found in almost every product in the supermarket, the easiest way to identify the sugar content in your food is by looking on the nutrition label on the back of any product.



common types of sugar
Common types of Sugar:
  • Brown Sugar
  • Icing Sugar
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Powdered Sugar upl_img_themes/cakes.jpg

how are we affected when we use these products
How are we affected when we use these products?

In 2000 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data revealed that the average American consumed 158 pounds of sugar. That number has increased almost every year since 1983.

I’m sure we are all aware of the fact that we should monitor our sugar intake. The World Heath Organization has recently put out a study stating we should not consume more that 10% of calories from sugar.



in addition
In addition:
  • Suppressing the immune system.
  • Weakening eyesight.
  • Causing hyperactivity, concentration difficulties, and crankiness in children.
  • Leading to alcoholism
  • Promoting tooth decay
  • Contributing to weight gain and obesity

Some of the consequences included:

I found a listing of some of sugar’s metabolic consequences from a variety of medical journals and other scientific publications. There were over 78 ways sugar can ruin your health.


what s so bad about sugar
What’s so Bad About Sugar?

First, sugar gets absorbed into the bloodstream all at once so you experience a blood sugar elevation. In response to this your pancreas begin to increase the production of insulin. Insulin is supposed to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream.

In addition to the insulin being produced your pancreas you also produce glucagon, which has the opposite effect of insulin. It is a “release” hormone that is responsible for releasing body fat. Since your body is so caught up in producing insulin, the glucagon production stops which results in the crippling of fat release.

Your pancreas manufactures more insulin than you need so after you’ve had you sugar rush you wind up with residual low blood sugar. In order to normalize you sugar levels you begin to crave for… more sugar.

Sugar is addictive.


in conclusion
In Conclusion:

Sugar from beginning to end has detrimental effects on the bodies of workers and consumers.

It is one of the main factors in the development and maintenance of the slave trade. It has been affecting communities of color from the moment it fell into European hands.

Diabetes is one of this nations most common diseases and our addiction to sugar is spreading at a global level with the introduction of processed foods into global markets.

More than 17 million Americans have diabetes and each year 200,000 people die of related complications.

This is severely effecting low-income communities of color where the access to organic and non-processed foods is limited.

Statistics show that it is among populations of people of color that diabetes, obesity, and other diseases linked to sugar are raging through the populations.



sources cited

Sources Cited: Sugar Web - Growing Sugar Cane 4/28/03 Sugar Sugar Addict – Sugar History 5/2/03 “The High Price of Sugar" by Susan Miller 4/28/03 Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations “Impacts of Trade Liberalization on the World Sugar Market 4/15/03 Sugar Mark Limited “Cleaner Production Waste Opportunities” 4/15/03 “The Plight of Haitian Workers in the Dominican Sugar Industry" by Ryan McKenzie 4/15/03

Pollution Prevention and Abatement Handbook, World Bank Group, July 1998 “Sugar Manufacturing”5/2/03 Sugar Web-Sugar “The Refining Process”4/28/03 “What’s Behind Your Food”5/2/03 Sugar Mark Limited “Cleaner Production Waste Opportunities” 4/15/03

sources cited continued
Sources Cited (continued):

10 “Sugar Mills and Distilleries” 4/28/03

  • National Occupational Health & Safety Commission Common Wealth of Australia “Health Effects of Bagasse in Queensland Sugar Mills” by Biggins, D; Abrahams, H 4/28/03
  • Cane Resources Network for Southern Africa 4/28/03
  • Council on Hemispheric Affairs “The Bitter Side of U.S. Sugar Protectionism” 4/7/03
  • Sugar Web-Sugar Producing Countries 4/28/03
  • Sugar Web-Types of Sugar 4/21/03
  • Monitor Sugar Company: Non Food Uses for Sugar 4/28/03
  • IOL: WHO Obesity Report leaves Sugar Industry Sour
  • Center for Science in the Public Health Interest “Sugar Intake at an All-time High in 1999 4/28/03
  • 78 Ways Sugar Can Ruin Your Health
  • The Facts of Health – Sugar
  • At-A -Glance “Diabetes is a Growing Public Health Problem” 4/28/03
  • National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion-National Diabetes Fact Sheet