Monday, March 12, 2007

Sugar, honey honey… March 10th

Stopping by that sugar-managers house today was quite interesting. There was a lot of talk about sugar and the production process. Think I must beg for a guided tour there some time. The sugar cane goes in at the one end, and comes out as crystallized sugar in the other end 8 minutes/hours later.

The sugar cane industry in SA is a purely Indian thing! Thus they also favoured the Indian engineers to fix this and that on the mill. Once they had a Indian guy over to get water brought from 2km away into the mill. He was streetwise, and not an educated guy at all. The way he worked however impressed everybody. He also managed to bring the water into the mill using no pumps or compressors or anything like any engineer would be expected to use. The aqueduct or whatever he made works well even today, and saved the mill lots of money over the years. They were so happy with the guys work that they bought him a white horse when he wanted to get married. In India they have more than 400 mills around the country, so the sugar-mill engineers are very sharp over there and therefore highly appreciated over here! The Tongaat mill was the second mill established in South Africa, but is today the biggest producer in the country.

I also learned that there is more to sugar than just white or brown. Actually brown sugar is generally healthier, and contains more nutrition. In Tongaat Hulettes Sugar alone they produce about 300.000 tons of sugar in a good year… and about 30 different varieties. To make the white sugar they use chemicals, and in the process they wash (bleach) out much of the healthy nutrients.

Back in the days white sugar was considered much finer than the brown sugar. When people got visitors they used to hide the brown sugar and bring out the exclusive white sugar. Today, however it seem to have changed… and the brown sugar is found everywhere in the cafes and coffee shops. Brown sugar is in fashion.

The sugar cane normally requires 18months of growing to reach the full size and maximum capacity sugarwise. Today however, because of pressure in the industry, they cut the sugar after 12 months mostly so that the farmers can get their money back faster. The canes are therefore not as thick and nice as they used to be.

When the sugar production started in KwaZulu Natal in the 1860’s, the conditions were perfect for growing the canes. It is an understanding in the industry however that the ideal “belt” for growing canes has moved northwards to Mozambique and Kenya. Why? Because of global warming! The “belt” seems to have missed Zimbabwe though! Not because of global warming – but because of Bob. The land and the natural recourses was easy to steal and redistribute, but stealing the machinery to work the land was probably harder to justify.

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