10
Sugar Cane

Sugar cane is indigenous to the coastal belt of Natal where its luxuriant growth encouraged the early settlers to import cultivated varieties from established sugar producing countries1 with the idea of starting commercial production. The first cuttings were imported in 1847 and planted near Umhlalis on the north coast. Two years later the first mill was erected and in 1851 the first raw brown sugar produced. Soon cane cultivation spread through the coastal belt north and south of Durban, being stimulated by easy terms of land acquisition and the imposition of a duty on imported sugar. By 1859 production exceeded 1,000 tons of which nearly 300 tons were exported. But further development was hampered by unrest in Zululand, inadequate transport facilities, poor milling facilities, and, most serious, difficulties in obtaining reliable labour, the local Bantu being unskilled in agriculture and disinclined to offer their services. The labour problem, however, was eased by the introduction of indentured Indians between 1860 and 1866. Thereafter the acreage under cane was rapidly extended and by 1878 sugar production exceeded 16,000 tons. The last quarter of the century, however, brought marketing difficulties, for Germany dumped surplus beet sugar at South African ports, Mauritius began to export at prices lower than that of Natal sugar, and the Transvaal republic, under a trade treaty concluded with the Portuguese Government, admitted Mozambique sugar duty free. Acreage expansion therefore ceased and attention was devoted to increasing yields through the use of improved varieties and better cultural methods.

After the Anglo-Boer War an agreement between the several colonies accorded the Natal sugar industry preferential treatment and protection against dumping by sugar producers with large surpluses. At first little increase in acreage occurred, but the use of improved varieties of cane and the adoption of better cultural practices led to increased production. Then in 1905 Zululand was opened for development, railways were extended, and, following Union in 1910, extensive new areas were brought under cane. The war gave a fillip to the industry and such was the expansion that by 1919 the sugar output exceeded 150,000 tons. In the following years generally high world prices and, compared with other countries, relatively low production costs, led to further extensions in the cane

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