May 10, 2014

Sugarcane Cultivation at Tiruvannamalai

Cultivation of sugarcane in India dates back to the Vedic period. The earliest mention of sugarcane cultivation is found in Indian writings of the period 1400 to 1000 B.C. Cultivated canes belong to two main groups: (a) thin, hardy north Indian types S.Barberi and S.Sinense and (b) thick, juicy noble canes Saccharum Officinarum. Highly prized cane is S.Officinarum. 

Local sugarcane cultivation

Sugarcane belongs to the grass family (Poaceae), a seed plant family that includes maize, wheat, rice, and sorghum. The main product of sugarcane is sucrose, which accumulates in the stalk internodes. Sucrose, extracted and purified in specialized mill factories, is used in the food industry, fermented to produce ethanol and also used as livestock fodder. 

Cane is planted in furrows

Sugarcane is the world's largest crop by production quantity with India the second largest (after Brazil) sugarcane producer. Sugarcane cultivation requires a tropical climate, and is a highly efficient photosynthesiser. Sugar is actually made in the leaves of the sugarcane plant and then the sugar is stored as sweet juice in its stalks. 

Sugarcane crop ready for mill

Sugarcane is cultivated in the tropics and subtropics in areas with plentiful supply of water, for a continuous period of more than six to seven months each year, either from natural rainfall or through irrigation. 

Cutting the Sugarcane

It is planted in furrows at either horizontal or at 45-degree angles and it takes anywhere between 12,000 and 25,000 stems to plant 2.5 acres of land. After they are planted, they are covered with a light layer of soil. When they begin to grow and start sprouting, the furrow is turned inwards and the crops mature over the span of 9 to 24 months. 

Sugarcane harvesting done in the old fashioned way

Sugarcane needs strong sunlight, fertile soil and lots of water (at least 1.5 metres of rain each year or access to irrigation) to grow. 

Sugarcane being transported to the Mill

Once sugarcane has been harvested, it must be transported to a sugar mill as soon as possible. The longer it takes, the more sugarcane juice stored in the stalks will evaporate - so it is important that it arrives within 16 hours of being cut, to minimise deterioration. 

Waste burnt off, preparation of field for different crop

If the sugarcane is cut in the proper manner, it will regrow naturally without any further planting. But in the case of this narrative, after the cutting of the cane, the waste was set on fire in order to prepare the fields for a different crop. 

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