World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 17, December 1990

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. Conference Report
  3. Recent Publications of Interest

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 17, December 1990, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Gisela von Wobeser, La hacienda azucarera en la epoca colonial (Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico, 1988). Pp. 366. 25,000 pesos. ISBN 968-29-2223-2.

Unlike other sugar colonies in the New World devoted to the production of cane sugar for export to the European metropolis, the production of cane and sugar in New Spain was oriented to supply the internal market -- the large cities and the silver mines. This development of Spanish colonial manufacture has not been adequately studied by historians of sugar.

Gisela von Wobeser offers us a useful and welcome synthesis of the results of work carried out in the region of the alcaldias of Cuernavaca and Cuautla during the period 1521-1810. This sugar region, the most important in all of New Spain, located to the south of Mexico City, corresponds to the present-day state of Morelos. The material is presented in two parts: the major phases of the evolution of the sugar industry during the colonial period and, second, the structure of the sugar hacienda as a key institution for the production and commercialization of sugar.

The colonial history of sugar remains divided into three main periods: beginnings (1521-1600); development and consolidation (1600-1690); crisis and flowering (1690-1810). This periodization seems correct when we take into account the information from hacienda documents which give us a picture of the haciendas as productive entities, the alienation and consolidation of their property, their debts and bankruptcies, and the statistics for the sales and qualities of sugars. New research on the internal market, to which production in New Spain was directed, reflected in the prices, will probably modify the periodization given above. In fact, the author offers (p. 65) a graph of prices (1538-1830) taken from figures published in Crespo and Vega Villanueva's monumental statistical work on the Mexican sugar industry [see below].

Until now the research into the sugar industry of New Spain has been based on the archives of the haciendas. These have thrown up abundant material that the author has put together in four chapters corresponding respectively to the physical infrastructure of the sugar estates, agricultural and industrial techniques, the characteristics of the labour force, and commercial and financial procedures.

The discerning reader will find numerous points of disagreement with the author's analysis. Areas of theoretical controversy are not adequately pointed up in the book. B ecause of this, Gisela von Wobeser's work will not be cited as an authoritative source. Her virtue is to provoke criticism and the development of new perspectives for research. These should insist on the presence of manufactures in the colony dedicated to supplying the domestic market and explain the paradox between the apparent prosperity in sugar's commercial sphere together with the empirical evidence of debts and bankruptcies of individual haciendas. For this, new evidence is required, evidence which must be found in different sources from those which the author has so diligently studied and analyzed in this work.

Roberto Melville
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social (Mexico)

Peter L. Eisenberg, Homes Esquecidos -- Escravos e Trabalhadores Livres no Brasil, Seculos XVIII e XIX (Campinas (SP), Brazil: Editora da Unicamp, 1989). Pp.394. Price not available. ISBN 85-268-0139-2.

If not for his untimely death three years ago, Peter Eisenberg would have reached his fiftieth birthday in 1990. This book, organized and published by his colleagues, is much more than a well-deserved posthumous tribute to him and his work. It constitutes proof that his intellectual contributions continue to live, helping us to make sense of the history both of sugar and of Brazil.

Despite his North American origins and cultural background, Peter soon ceased to be a mere Brazilianist, by becoming, through his family and his profound empathy, a true citizen of our country. This explains how and why only three of the fifteen essays presented here first appeared in English. All the others were written in Portuguese, his adopted language.

The essays in this collection are organized in four sections, preceded by introductory notes from the Rector of the University, from two of his closest friends, and from the editor of the volume. They are not arranged in a strictly chronological order, although the first part includes all the oldest, and the last part, some of the most recent essays. The book ends with a complete list of Peter's publications.

All three essays in the first section are from the 1970s and are drawn from his PhD thesis, "The Sugar Industry of Pernambuco, 1840-1910," which was subsequently published by the University of California Press in 1974. The five essays in the second part of the book, completed during the 1980s, analyze nineteenth-century Brazilian planters' attitudes towards the unavoidable transition from slavery to free labour. These are followed in the third section by three essays written between 1977 and 1987 which deal with the situation facing local (non-immigrant) free workers and emancipated slaves during this same transitional period. In the four essays in the final section, all written in the 1980s, sugar returns to centre stage, but with the author's attention shifting in both place and time, from the Northeast of Brazil to the Sao Paulo region and from the end to the beginning of the last century.

The book's title seems to have been chosen more correctly than its subtitle. Homens Esquecidos is a general designation for all the forgotten people of the past. It includes not only the slaves and free labourers on whose backs everything else was and continues to be carried, but also their masters, who exploited them and whose mentality still prevails within the Brazilian ruling class.

Peter Eisenberg's essays are stimulating and challenging. Even those who do not agree with all he says cannot fail to be impressed by the scope and depth, as well as by the acumen of his propositions and judgements. The problems which he studied are among the most significant for understanding the emergence of Brazil's modern sugar industry and the country's contemporary social system.

Peter will always be fondly remembered by his many friends and colleagues throughout the world. This book will help insure that in Brazil as well as the international academic community he will never be a forgotten man.

Tamas Szmrecsanyi
Universidad Estadual de Campinas

(An obituary for Peter Eisenberg appeared in WSHN, No. 13, December 1988)

Sanjaya Baru, The Political Economy of Indian Sugar: State Intervention and Structural Change (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1990). Pp. xiv + 225. Rs175. ISBN 019 562423 8.

India is the largest producer of sugar in the world, now accounting for more than a tenth of the global output of centrifugal sugar alone. That by itself makes any study of the Indian sugar industry required reading for sugar economists and historians. In this case, duty is well rewarded.

Sanjaya Baru examines the development of the steam-operated factory branch of the Indian industry which has grown up under pervasive government controls since prohibitive import tariffs were imposed in 1932. His perspective is that of an outsider, interested in the wider context of the wellsprings of industrial policy formation. This immunizes the book against the special pleading of which the writings of insiders in this extraordinarily many-sided industry could be suspect. It also determines its structure, what questions are addressed, and how far they are pursued. The basic aim is to reveal the interplay of economics, technology, and politics.

The political economy of sugar weaves intricate patterns in most countries; the Indian case represents the ultimate in complexity. Cane is grown under very different environmental conditions in the subtropical and tropical regions of the land. Ownership of the more than 300 vacuum pan factories is split between the public and the private sectors, and, in the latter, further between large national conglomerates, smaller provincial entrepreneurs, and grower cooperatives substantially financed by the state. If this were not enough, these manufacturers coexist, compete, and interact with a huge number of small producers of gur and khandsari, the traditional types of sugar made in open pans, who until recently collectively processed more cane than the larger steam-powered mills and supplied the greater part of the sugar consumed in India.

Important for an understanding of the nature of the Indian vacuum pan sugar industry, Baru's study also has wider usefulness in touching on points -- in some instances regrettably briefly -- which crop up in other countries. India provides case-book examples of the promotion of sugar manufacturing to raise rural incomes and justify infrastructural investments like irrigation canals; the role of protectionism in the formation of an entrepreneurial class; the effects of technical research and development; grower-processor conflicts and the character of the grower-owner sugar factories; the limits of scale economies; problems of supply management and the resort to cartel arrangements as a way of freezing market shares; and the government rescue of unprofitable enterprises. New to me as an explanatory factor is Baru's allusion to a decline in international prices of sugar mill machinery during the 1930s depression, an aspect meriting investigation elsewhere.

What emerges is a picture of government policies and regulations shaped by countervailing forces. Baru draws a useful distinction between private and state-operated cartels to help explain why controls had less of an inhibitory effect on competition and moves to maximize profits through technological change than might have been expected. Having to balance conflicting economics and political interests, the control regime afforded only limited protection to older high-cost mills and did not prevent a shift of the industry to more favourable locations. Since 1950, the share of the subtropical region in national vacuum pan sugar production, though tripled in volume, has fallen from over 75 per cent to less than a third.

Baru's analysis of the pressures moulding government policy could have been strengthened in places by more systematic consideration of the unregulated open pan sugar sector and its relationships with the vacuum pan sugar sector, though he makes clear that this was not within his chosen frame of reference. Again, one occasionally feels that constraints of time and space prevented him from fully exploring the connections between different strands of his presentation. Not surprisingly in such a vast scenario, Baru's argument is more solidly grounded in some areas than in others. For instance, I think more proof is required to justify the stress laid on the loss of cane quality in what he calls the "duration gap" (i.e. the time between harvesting and processing) as a determinant of mill size, if this, more than logistical and other factors, outweighed engineering and operating economies of scale. In fact, the daily crushing capacity of the average Indian factory, while still small by world standards, has risen by 16 per cent in the last ten years.

Sadly, it seems that careful copy editing can no longer be taken for granted, even in a publishing house as prestigious as Oxford University Press. If that is a quibble, this is a book worth quibbling about, and I hope it will not be the only one Sanjaya Baru writes on the Indian sugar industry.

G.B. Hagelberg


The International Sugar Economy in the Post-War World: 1945-90

  1. Kusha Haraksingh, "Labour, Land, and the Trinidad Sugar Industry since 1945"
  2. Roger Knight, "Colonial Legacies: Sugar in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan since World War II"
  3. Yoshiko Nagano, "Philippine Sugar: The Collapse of De-Americanization"
  4. Jorge Chullen, "Struggles of Sugar Workers: A View of the Trade Unions from 1945 to 1990
  5. Colin Brown, "The Politics of Trade Union Formation in the Java Sugar Industry, 1945-1949"
  6. David Lincoln, "Manufacturing Browns and Whites Under Apartheid: A Survey of the South African Sugar Industry, 1948-1984"
  7. D. Pal Ahluwalia, "Plantation Agriculture and the Politics of the Sugar Industry in Uganda"
  8. Tamas Szmrecsanyi and Eduardo F.P. Moreira, "Brazil: Fifty Years of Growth, Crisis, and Modernization, 1939-1989"
  9. Manuel Martin Rodriguez, "The Spanish Sugar Industry, 1939-1982"
  10. Alec Douet, "Aspects of Sugar Beet Production since 1945 (UK)"
  11. Donald Attwood, "Cooperative Sugar in Western India"
  12. Sanjaya Baru, "Trends in India's External Trade in Sugar"
  13. B.S. Baviskar, "Indian Sugar Power to the Peasants"
  14. Frank Ellis, "Small-Farm Sugar Production in Fiji: Employment and Distribution Aspects"
  15. John Cameron, "Designing a Sugar Grower Processor Contract to Assist Small Farmers (Fiji)"
  16. Geoff Burrows and Ralph Shlomowitz, "The Lag in the Mechanization of the Sugarcane Harvest: Some Comparative Perspectives"
  17. G.B. Hagelberg and A.C. Hannah, "The Quest for Order: A Review of International Sugar Agreements"
  18. Brian Pollitt, "The Development of Labour Shortage and the Mechanization of Cane Harvesting in Post-Revolutionary Cuba"
  19. Horacio Crespo, "The Mexican Sugar Industry, 1940-1980"
  20. Tidings Ndhlovu, "Can Sugar Export Prices be Explained? The Case of the EEC/ACP Sugar Protocol"
  21. Edward Beechert, "The Hawaiian Sugar Industry, 1950-1990"
  22. Daniel Campi, "Argentine Sugar Policy 1945-1990: Regulation and Crisis"

Sponsored by British Sugar Plc; the British Academy; Bayer UK Ltd.; C. Czarnikow Ltd.; Thomas Broadbent & Sons Ltd.; School of Economic and Social Studies, UEA, the conference was held at the University of East Anglia between August 29th and September 1st, 1990. An edited collection of papers is planned. In the meantime there are a very limited number of copies of the bound proceedings which may be purchased from the organizers. These are available to individual researchers only and no quotes from or references to the papers may be made without the written consent of the authors. Send cheques or money orders in sterling (payable to University of East Anglia) for 12.50 pounds (including p&p) to Bill Albert (address below).

Recent Publications of Interest

Philippe Chalmin, The Making of a Sugar Giant. Tate and Lyle 1859-1989 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990). Pp. xvii + 782. $95.00. ISBN 3-7186-0434-5. [To be reviewed].

Cornelis Ch. Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and in Surinam 1791/5-1942 (1990). Pp. 850, including illustrations and charts. 142.50 Dutch gilders/$US 72.00. ISBN 90-232-2495-7. [To be reviewed].

Yosiko Negano, Sato Ashienda to Hinkon: Firipin Negurosu - to Shoshi (Sugar Hacienda and Poverty: A Short History of Negros Island in the Philippines). (Tokyo: Keiso Shobo, 1990). Pp. 307 + 46.

Michael Tadman, Speculators ant Slaves: Masters, Traders and Slaves in the Old South (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989).

Horacio Crespo, ed., Historia del Azucar en Mexico 2 vols. (Mexico: Azucar SA and Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1988). ISBN 968-16-2986-8. [To be reviewed].

Horacio Crespo and Enrique Vega Villanueva, Estadisticas Historicas del Azucar en Mexico (Mexico: Azucar S.A., 1988). Pp. 823. (For further information: Azucar S.A. de CV, Ave. Insurgentes Sur 1079, Mexico D.F., Mexico).

Alejandro Garcia Alvarez, La Gran Burguesia Comercial en Cuba 1899-1920 (Havana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1990). Pp. 158.

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.