World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 16, July 1990

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. Museum Notes
  3. Book Announcements

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 16, July 1990, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


George C. Abbott, Sugar (London and New York: Routledge, 1990). Pp. xv + 396. 45 pounds (ISBN 0-41500408-X).

Sugar. A nice, simple, straightforward title. Perhaps too simple, as it doesn't convey what is inside the covers. But, why quibble over the lack of an informative sub-title? There are a number of reasons. Besides book marketing considerations, which perhaps are better left to the publisher, there are other matters, which may concern some historians -- the author might claim only oversensitive historians. Nonetheless ...

The book is a survey of the current and future state of sugar, but although the author shows he is reasonably knowledgeable about the industry's long history, for him we need go back only to 1974 to understand what is happening today. He writes, "1974 thus effectively marks the watershed between what might be called the traditional relationships within the industry and modern developments" (p. 2). Perhaps this explains the boldly simple title. For understanding present conditions the significant history of the commodity really begins sixteen years ago. Is this a reasonable proposition? Perhaps.

The author argues that in 1974 the sharp rise in sugar prices set the stage for a massive increase in output which led in turn to price collapse from which there has been no real recovery. At the same time, 1974 was the year when Britain joined the E.E.C. and the U.S. Sugar Act came to an end, both events changing the essential elements governing the international market. Together with the drive for self sufficiency, the concomitant increase in protection of domestic markets, and the failure to negotiate a new international sugar agreement in 1984, these changes have dramatically altered the structure of the market for sugar. The E.E.C. has become a major exporter, dumping sugar on the world markets, while it is the less developed countries which have become the major importers. His thesis is that whereas sugar has historically been prey to extreme cyclical changes, the problems facing it now are structural ones which can only be solved by international action, the first step being a new international sugar agreement. "One of the strange ironies of the sugar industry," he writes, "is that domestically it suffers from too many regulations and controls, while internationally, there are not enough" (p. 336). He presents interesting, strong, persuasive arguments to support his claims. However, while it is true that current conditions do exhibit many unique features, for example, changing patterns of consumption, new market alignments, or the competition from alternative sweeteners, for a historian much of what is happening also has a distinctly familiar ring to it. The essential point here is that while the author states that sugar has become a highly politicized commodity, historians would argue that it always has been highly politicized. Protection, subsidies, changing patterns of consumption, competition (for example, beet versus cane), changing market relationships, and a shrinking "free" market, these all have well-known historical pedigrees. This isn't to say that Abbott is not correct to focus his analysis closely on contemporary factors and events, but only to argue that many of these and the political economy which underlay them can profitably be traced back well beyond 1974.

However, this book contains much more than an argument on the current state of the international sugar economy, although this is clearly the main trust of the study. Abbott also sets out to present the reader with detailed basic information about the industry. After setting out some of the factors governing recent market structures and price movements, he offers a useful chapter on the organization and structure of the industry. He takes in both cane and beet, considering a wide range of issues: systems of cultivation, farm size, production methods, the manufacturing of sugar, by-products, etc. He provides country-specific examples and gives a good picture of current practice, while cautioning about the dangers of easy comparisons for an industry faced with such a massively wide diversity of conditions.

The following five chapters are concerned essentially with the marketing of sugar. In the first Abbott gives the reader a clear and concise view of how international markets operate -- the nuts and bolts as it were. Besides the complex structure of the market, he also gives a useful account of futures trading as well as special trade arrangements, such as the Lome Convention. In chapter four he summarizes the history of international agreements and in chapter five details sugar policy in the U.K., U.S., and U.S.S.R. The final two chapters are concerned with the author's estimation of future developments and his argument that there is an urgent need for a new and more ambitious international sugar agreement.

The main element missing in this otherwise comprehensive study is any consideration of labour or trade unions. Historians will no doubt regret this and may also be concerned about the somewhat nearsightedness of the author's historical perspective. Nevertheless, Abbott has produced a well written and extremely informative study which will provide a most valuable guide for anyone concerned with understanding the intricate mysteries of the contemporary international sugar trade.

Bill Albert
University of East Anglia

Frantisek Dudek, Monopolizace cukrovarnictvi v ceskych zemich do ruko 1938 (Prague: Academia, 1985). Pp. 228.

The beet sugar industry played a paramount role in the industrial development of the Czech Lands (i.e. Bohemia, Moravia, and Austrian Silesia) during the nineteenth century. Together with textiles and glass, sugar was the most important export article during the inter-war years. Frantisek Dudek has addressed himself to the subject and produced two books which are essential reading for historians interested in the industry's role in the economic, social, and political history of the Czech Lands in particular, and of Czechoslovakia in general, between 1830 and 1938. His historical overview of the sugar industry in the Czech Lands between 1810 and 1872 (Vyvoj cukrovarnickeho prumyslu v ceskych zemich do ruko 1872) appeared in 1979. In his more recent study he focuses on monopoly formation and its impact on the sugar-beet industry between the 1870s and 1938, primarily in the Czech Lands, though the situation in Slovakia and Ruthenia (Carpatho-Ukraine) during the inter-war years is not ignored. The book is divided into five chapters, with an introduction and conclusion. The first chapter is devoted to theoretical and methodological issues. Here Dudek elucidates the Marxist position and methodology he has adopted in the book. The overall aim of the second chapter is to deal with the emergence and the rise of monopolies in the sugar industry up to 1918. It comprises a survey of world trade and exports of sugar between 1880 and 1918, a discussion of the beginnings of monopoly formation in the 1870s and 1880s, and the development and activities of the sugar cartel (1891-1918). The third chapter's ostensible subject is the regulatory role of the state in the growth of monopolies in the the sugar industry between 1918 and 1926. It also contains a survey of world trade and exports in sugar, 1918-38; a discussion of how the Agrarian Party, the dominant political force in Czechoslovakia, strove for control over the sugar sector of the economy; and an account of the involvement of banks in the sugar industry. This is followed by a chapter focusing on the long-term cartel which came into being in October 1927 and was expected to expire on 30 September 1937. While its validity was extended until the end of 1937, a new cartel agreement was concluded for the period 1 October 1937 to 30 September 1947. This is dealt with in the final chapter, which closes with a brief record of the immediate consequences of the Munich Agreement (30 September 1938) for the sugar industry in the Czech Lands. The conclusion summarizes the findings of the study: the author claims that they manifestly demonstrate the pervasive economic, social, and political influence of the monopolies established in the sugar industry, including their close co-operation with the state. Apart from Lenin, the author bases himself explicitly on the ideas about the transition from capitalism and free competition to imperialism which Jaroslav Purs formulated in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Whatever may be said for this approach, there is surely more to an analytical framework from the Marxist standpoint in the 1980s. Nevertheless, without doubt, Dudek's study is a substantial piece of scholarship based on a wide range of primary and secondary material; a wealth of appendices and an extensive bibliography enhance its value. There are resumes in Russian and German but, disappointingly, no indices of any kind. This is the more curious because Dedek's earlier book, published by the same publishing house, has indices of names and locations.

M. Teich
Robinson College, Cambridge

(We would like to thank the editors of the The English Historical Review for permission to reproduce the above review which first appeared in the Review in July 1988, Vol. CIII, No. 408, pp.763-64. For those whose Czech might be a bit rusty, Dr. Dudek has published a number of articles in English on the subject discussed above. These include: "Energy Base of the Foodstuffs Industry in Czech Lands During the Industrial and Technological and Scientific Revolution," in Energy in History, ed. Jaroslav Purs, Institute of the Czechoslovak and World History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Prague, 1984, pp. 67-98; "The Transition from the Mechanico-Chemical Manufactury Type Plant to the Factory (Demonstrated on the example of beet sugar industry in the Czech Lands)," in Economic History 2, Institute of the Czechoslovak and World History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Prague, 1978, pp. 25-54; "Territorial Development of Sugar-Beet and Sugar Production Regions in the Czech Lands at the time of the Industrial Revolution," Historical Geography 19, Institute of the Czechoslovak and World History of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, Prague, 1980, pp. 283-303; "The Crisis of the Beet-Sugar Industry in Czechoslovakia 1928-1938," The World Sugar Economy in War and Depression, 1914-1940, eds. Adrian Graves and Bill Albert, London, Routledge, 1988.)

Veront M. Satchell, From Plots to Plantations: Land Transactions in Jamaica, 1866-1900 (Mona, Jamaica: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1990). Pp. xv + 197. Pb. 10.50 pounds. ISBN 976-40-0015-0.

Satchell's study of Jamaican land transfers in the late nineteenth century takes as its starting point the 1866 imposition of Crown Colony government, Great Britain's attempt to revive the local export economy after its decline since slave emancipation, and after the bloodshed of the more recent Morant Bay uprising. The period covered includes the renewed crisis among cane growers caused by European beet in the 1880s, so a main theme is the potential for survival of large scale property on a "sugar island" after the original staple had lost its ascendancy.

It has been argued, most notably by Gisela Eisner's Jamaica 1830-1930 (Manchester, 1961), that the local outcome was a sustained growth in the peasant economy, as indicated, for example, by the number of "small settlers" recorded for tax purposes. Satchell disputes this. First, he shows the tax returns' limitation as historical evidence, because of their incompleteness and their failure to distinguish adequately tenants from freeholders. Second, he develops an alternative measure of landownership trends through a painstaking computer-based analysis of conveyance deeds registered in Jamaica's Island Record Office. It appears that between 1866 and 1900 small settlers did advance, but only to a rather modest extent. Their gains through transfers amounted to some 165,000 acres, about six per cent of Jamaica's total area (pp. 35, 131). Also peasant success was largely confined to the 1860s and 1870s. During this period several derelict sugar estates were broken up for sale in small parcels. From the 1880s, however, this trend was reversed as large-scale capital was attracted to the new business of banana growing. Geography confined the banana plantations to Jamaica's eastern parishes, but elsewhere in the island commercial revival encouraged cattle raising as a basis on which to keep former sugar estates intact. By the 1880s growth in small-scale proprietorship was limited almost entirely to subdivision. A scheme for settling smallholders on Crown land did little to offset trends in the private land market.

Satchell's book certainly makes a valuable contribution to Caribbean economic history, although it is slightly impaired by a narrow perspective. He shows that previous accounts of Jamaican landownership are unsatisfactory for the period, and given an over-optimistic impression of peasant progress. Yet, through all his detailed analysis of property transfers, he never attempts to estimate, even roughly, the structure of landownership at any particular moment in time.

We know that when slavery was abolished in the 1830s large estates occupied most of Jamaica's land area, and that by the 1950s their share had been reduced to less than a half, but we are left uncertain what point in the transition had been reached by 1866 or 1900.

John Ward
University of Edinburgh



The Australian Sugar Industry Museum, situated at Mourilyan just south of Innisfall in North Queensland was officially opened on 30th July, 1977, and a new section added in 1988. The Museum was formed to preserve the heritage of the Australian sugar industry and is a non-profit, independent organization which draws support from the sugar industry, local bodies, and interested individuals. Finance has been obtained by tax deductible donations from sugar industry, industry suppliers, Innisfall district canegrowers and mills, and state and federal grants.

The Museum includes:

Future plans include an outdoor complex that will include reconstructions of plantation era and early farm era barracks, equipment sheds, and an operating horse-drawn sugar mill.

Archives are under development that will house journals, books, and pamphlets as well as photograph files for use in research by Museum staff and other interested persons. The Museum address is:
Australian Sugar Industry Museum
Mourilyan, Queensland 4858


In WSHN, No. 12 (June 1988) we carried a brief report by John Perkins on the Zucker-Museum in Berlin. We have just received a letter from the curator, Dr. Bernhard E. Nicki, informing us that in 1988 the museum, which is part of the Technical University in Berlin (see WSHN, No.4, May 1984) was designated a national museum and in September 1989 it was reopened after alterations.

To remind readers, the museum, first opened in 1904, is the oldest sugar museum in the world and contains a large collection of material on the scientific and technical aspects of sugar making as well as on the agriculture of cane and beet and the wider social world relating to sugar production and consumption.

To mark the reopening the Zucker-Museum has produced a new guide: Zucker-Museum (Guide to the museum, No. 26 of the scientific series "Schriften aus dem Zucker-Museum) edited by Prof. Dr. Hubert Olbrich (Berlin, 1989, pp. 228, DM20). This is more than simply a guide. It is richly illustrated with nineteenth-century cartoons, paintings, and prints, together with photographs, maps, diagrams, etc. and contains an excellent account of the history of all aspects of sugar production. In fact, even for those who don't read German, the illustrations alone are well worth the price of the admission, and anyone who prides themselves on their sugar library will want to have a copy. For further information write to:

Dr. Bernhard E. Nicki
Amrumer Strasse 32
D-1000 Berlin 65
West Germany


Veront Satchell, From Plots to Plantations: Land Transactions in Jamaica, 1866-1900

This work examines the changing patterns of landownership in rural Jamaica, 1866-1900, through a quantitative analysis of the land conveyance deeds at the Island Record Office. After a review of the economy of the late l9th century and the land laws enacted by the government after 1866 attention is paid to the patterns of transfers of public and private lands. Emphasis is placed on sizes of holdings, statuses of conveyors and conveyees, and the types of holdings conveyed. It is demonstrated that although the pattern of landownership varied from period to period, the policies of the government and economic developments -- the fruit/banana industry and the expansion of livestock rearing -- encouraged the concentration of large holdings in the hands of few landowners. It is shown that the ownership structure of the large landowning class changed. The traditional plantocrats were now joined by agrarian capitalists in the form of professionals, business companies, and merchants who acquired multiple holdings to become capitalists. The corollary of this concentration was the decline in the amount of land available for small settlers' expansion.

"The material is original, the analysis scholarly, and the organization is clear. The book contributes significantly to an understanding of changing patterns of land ownership in Jamaica.... This is a scholarly book that could be used in courses in l9th century Caribbean social and economic history." Nigel Bolland author of Land in Belize.

"This piece of work is a substantial one"; Barry Higman author of Jamaica Surveyed.

200 pages. 6x9. ISBN 976-40-0015-0
Subject categories: real property, land tenure, Jamaica.
Price: J$98 (Jamaica only); US$16.50; UK 10.50 pounds; EC$44.00; Bds$32.50; T&T$69.00; Bze$32.50.

George Abbott (University of Glasgow), Sugar

Sugar is an important commodity in the world economy and a particularly interesting one for students of world commodity markets. The world sugar market changed fundamentally in the 1970s and is enormously affected by the competition between cane sugar, which is a major export for some developing countries, and beet sugar, which is often subsidised by European governments.

This book analyses sugar as a commodity, surveying the different production processes and the nature of both the pre-1970s and the present world market for the commodity. It examines how trade in the commodity developed historically from colonial times when cane plantations, then worked by slave labour, were first set up. It looks at how production considerations affect the shape of the market, how governments acting independently or through supranational bodies such as UNCTAD attempt to control and stabilise the world market, and at the factors which affect trends within the market. It includes discussion of the many by-products of sugar and assesses the commercial prospects for trade in the commodity in the future.

Contents: 1. Setting the Scene; 2. Organisation and Structure; 3. The Marketing of Sugar; 4. International Control Measures; 5. Sugar Policy in Major Markets; 6. The Outlook for Sugar; 7. Towards a Policy for Sugar.

Commodities Series
February 1990. 288 pp. 216x138. Hb: 0-415-00408-X. Normal price 45.00 pounds

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, UEA, Norwich, and Adrian Graves, Department of History, University of Adelaide. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, U.K.