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Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is a plant in the grass family (Gramineae) that is cultivated to produce table sugar (sucrose), molasses, rum, and ethanol. Historically, sugarcane was produced with slave labor. In modern times, it is still often linked to exploitative labor practices. For more information, see the article on Sugarcane Labor Practices. Globally, sugarcane covered 23 million hectares as of 2007.[1]


"Sugar cane is grown in more than a hundred countries under temperate, subtropical and tropical conditions. The sugar cane is basically a crop of tropical climates, with yields affected significantly by temperature, relative humidity and solar radiation. The optimum mean daily temperature range is 14 to 35°C. Likewise, relative humidity ranging between 55 – 85% at grand growth period favors stalk development. The optimal solar radiation requirement is 18 – 36 MJ/m2 (Total annual: 6350 MJ/m2). Stalk growth increases when daylight is in the range of 10 – 14 hours. Sugar cane can be grouped into three varieties: early, mid-late and late. Varieties resistant to several pests and diseases have also been developed in major sugar cane growing regions across the subtropical and tropical world.
"Sugar cane requires a well-drained, well-aerated, porous soil with pH of 6.5. Compacted soils (> 1.6 to 1.7 g/cm3) affect root penetration, water and nutrient uptake. The crop is moderately sensitive to soil salinity. The planting pattern is dual or paired row and spacing adopted (1.4m + 0.4m) is 0.15m under drip irrigated conditions, while sowing depth is generally 10cm. The crop is grown by vegetative propagation and requires 40,000 two-bud1 or 30,000 three-bud setts2 per hectare in order to maintain a desired millable stalk population target of 130,000/ha."[2]

Production Statistics

In 2009, the top sugar cane producing countries (ranked by quantity of sugar cane, not sugar itself) were as follows:[3]

  • 1. Brazil: 671,395,000 metric tons
  • 2. India: 285,029,000 metric tons
  • 3. China: 116,251,272 metric tons
  • 4. Thailand: 66,816,400 metric tons
  • 5. Pakistan: 50,045,400 metric tons
  • 6. Mexico: 49,492,700 metric tons
  • 7. Colombia: 38,500,000 metric tons
  • 8. Australia: 31,456,900 metric tons
  • 9. Argentina: 29,950,000 metric tons
  • 10. United States: 27.456,000 metric tons
  • 11. Indonesia: 26,500,000 metric tons
  • 12. Philippines: 22,932,800 metric tons
  • 13. South Africa: 20,500,000 metric tons
  • 14. Guatemala: 18,391,700 metric tons
  • 15. Egypt: 17,000,000 metric tons
  • 16. Viet Nam: 15,246,400 metric tons
  • 17. Cuba: 14,900,000 metric tons
  • 18. Peru: 10,100,100 metric tons
  • 19. Venezuela: 9,500,000 metric tons
  • 20. Myanmar: 8,500,000 metric tons

One estimate, which is likely slightly out of date, found that 1450 million metric tons of sugarcane are grown annually on 22 million hectares world wide. At that time, Brazil and India together accounted for nearly 60% of the global production.[4]


"Brazil also developed an advanced sugarcane industry to produce sugar and ethanol, producing 20 percent of the world’s sugar and 34 percent of its ethanol in 2005 and accounting for 38 percent of world trade in sugar and 74 percent of world trade in ethanol. In addition to low production cost for sugarcane, the high concentration of sucrose in Brazilian varieties (14 percent) contributes to its competitiveness and has made it one of the lowest-cost global producers."[5]
"Brazil is the largest world producer of sugarcane, followed by India, Thailand and Australia. The area planted in 2006/2007 was over 7 million hectares, representing an increase of 1,47 million hectares in comparison with 2004/2005 harvest. Over the last three harvest years, cane plantations occupied an area 26,3% larger; presently it occupies 10% of the total farmed areas. It is estimated that in 2015/2016, Brazil’s cane plantations will expand approximately 50%, reaching 12,2 million hectares."[6]

For more information, see the article on Sugarcane Production in Brazil.

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Klaus Deininger and Derek Byerlee with Jonathan Lindsay, Andrew Norton, Harris Selod, and Mercedes Stickler, "Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?," World Bank, September 7, 2010, pp. 12.
  2. Sugarcane, Netafim, Accessed December 13, 2011.
  3. FAOSTAT, Inquiry of top sugarcane producing countries by quantity in 2009, Accessed December 13, 2011.
  4. Sugarcane, Netafim, Accessed December 13, 2011.
  5. Klaus Deininger and Derek Byerlee with Jonathan Lindsay, Andrew Norton, Harris Selod, and Mercedes Stickler, "Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?," World Bank, September 7, 2010, p. 18.
  6. Sérgio Schlesinger, Lúcia Ortiz, Camila Moreno, Célio Berman, Wendell Ficher Teixeira Assis, "New roads to the same old place: the false solution of agrofuels]," Núcleo Amigos da Terra Brasil – NATFederação de Órgãos para Assistência Federação de Órgãos para Assistência Social e Educacional – FASE, Terra de Direitos, October 2008, p. 5.

External Resources

External Articles