The Barbados sugar cane industry

Sugar cane was introduced to Barbados by the Dutch in 1640. At the time it provided Britain with sugar, rum and molasses. The sugar cane industry then became the backbone of the Barbados economy from the seventeenth century to the mid twentieth century, making it one of the world’s biggest sugar industries after starting the cultivation.

As the industry developed into its main commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates that replaced the small holdings of the early English settlers. A majority of the plantations had their own mill which was used for grinding the cane, extracting the juice and processing it. The raw sugar was then shipped to Britain where it was refined into a variety of products.

By the nineteenth century there were just over ten sugar factories where the cane was harvested manually and then loaded for transport to the factories for production. This is now done mechanically.

The sugar industry in Barbados started to decline when the cost of sugar production on the island escalated and the price of sugar on the international market plummeted. This caused closure for most of the factories. Today only two factories are still in operation, Andrews Sugar Factory in St. Joseph and Portvale Sugar Factory in St. James.

Over the years there have been other problems causing a decline in the sugar cane industry such as with the start of mechanisation, competition from larger scale producers, and reduction in preferential trading agreements with Britain and Europe.