Sugar Is Essential to the Island of Réunion

This universal sweetener is Réunion's biggest export crop

Helen Soteriou

Sugarcane awaiting processing at the Bois Rouge sucrerie.

Sugarcane is the most important source income for the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, accounting for between 40 and 50 percent of this French département's total annual exports.[related]

The Bois Rouge sucrerie, or sugar factory, in Saint-André produces half the sugar on the island. The other half comes from the island's only other sucrerie, Le Gol, near Saint-Louis to the southeast. Sugarcane needs sun and humidity, both of which are plentiful on the island’s eastern coast. Réunion's eRcane research center has developed 10 varieties of cane through natural hybridization to suit variations in climate.

Each factory receives a little less than 1 million metric tons of cane each year, usually harvested between June and December, and produces about 100,000 metric tons of sugar. Some 1,700 farmers provide cane for Bois Rouge, which in turn produces white sugar and four types of brown sugar.

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After the sugar is processed, three byproducts remain: molasses, which is distilled into industrial-quality rum (the artisanal rhum agricole is made from cane juice); fiber, called bagasse, burned by the island's thermal power station to produce energy; and foam, or écume, the impurities extracted from the sugar juice, used as fertilizer.