Sugarcane and its derivatives

Sugarcane on Reunion Island
Champs de cannes

The sugarcane fields form an integral part of the landscape on Reunion Island, especially in the east.


Sugarcane was brought to Reunion Island from Java and later Madagascar since the 17th century. At first it served to manufacture homemade liquor and to feed the livestock. Its exploitation however, started growing considerably from the 18th century on. Technological progress made the gain of a usable form of sugar syrup possible and the abundant and cheap labor carried out by slaves created a highly profitable operation. In 1815, Charles Desbassyns established the first distillery.


Sugarcane is a tall tropical grass species consisting of stalks measuring 7 to 19 feet tall. The stems are hollow with filled internodes and have a diameter of 0,5 to 2,5 inches. The ten leaves on a fully developing plant are growing in two opposite directions. Their blade is around 3 feet to 1 to 4 inches wide. In general, cane plants occupy the same parcel for several consecutive years. A portion of the stem is left in the ground for a new shoot during harvest. After harvesting three successive times the same plants, the field generally needs to be replanted with new cuttings.  


The sugarcane industry is after tourism the primary source of export income. It occupies 55% of agricultural land and contributes to the income of more than 15000 families. Today one hectare produces an average of 8 tons of sugar. Thanks to the bagasse-coal fired power plants, 45% of the electricity needs are covered by the cane. There are two sugar factories left on the island, the factory of "Bois Rouge" and the factory of "le Gol". Sugarcane and its derivates: sugar, rum, scum and especially bagasse, used to produce energy.