Sugarcane Agriculture

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sugarcane agriculture likely originated in India and New Guinea. It is difficult to determine when cane sugar first became the principal cultivated sweetener, although evidence exists that it achieved dominance on the subcontinent of India more than 2,500 years ago, and it was in that country and China that commercial sugar was first produced from sugarcane. It was not until the early eighteenth century, however, that sugar began to be used by the general population in Western Europe. Sugarcane was unknown in the New World until Columbus introduced it on his second voyage in 1493. Today, it is highly adapted to a wide range of tropical and subtropical climates, soils, and cultural conditions and is propagated in over 100 countries, occupying more than 20 million hectares of land worldwide. There can be little doubt that as a source of food and renewable energy, and as a supplier of income to millions of people, sugarcane ranks among the top agricultural crops in the world.