The sweet side of sugarcane farming

Ruqaya al Kindi

From the ancient sources of soft and sweet watery culm for chewing to a proper source of sweetener in modern-day life, the humble sugarcane has covered a long journey.

This unique feature of sugarcane has now been established. Since ancient times, Omanis have been closely involved in the cultivation of sugarcane and the production of red sugar, and the delicious sugar juice.

Willayat of Nizwa is famous for the cultivation of sugarcane, to the extent that it has emerged as a big business for farmers in the wilayat and an important source of income.

 The production of red sugar is one of the traditional Omani industries based on the wealth of Omani experience in the art of agriculture, crop care, land selection, and sweetness of the water.

Follow-up, as well as, the stages of the growth of sugarcane for a full year starts in March and continues until the harvest season, which takes more than eleven months. The relationship of the farmers with this crop thus continues for a whole year.

Ali bin Saud al Kindi, was raised in Nizwa and has been working since childhood in the field of agriculture, and he currently spends most of his time plowing, irrigating and caring for his farm, where he plants many crops, including sugarcane.

Al Kindi has lots of work to do before cane harvesting. “The time taken between cultivation and harvesting is one year. In between I have to plow the farm, do the planting, fertilising and constantly watering it to guarantee abundant production that meets with my needs,” he said.

“Then I take care of sugarcane during its growth in terms of continuous watering (almost once per week), removing dry leaves, chipping the cane and cleaning it to grow up without hindrance,” he added.

During the growth of sugarcane, “I tie the sticks together to be more solid and resistant to winds and climate conditions which the crop is exposed to,” he said.

Al kindi, as other farmers, loves the morning of March, when the time for harvest is due. In the early morning and after sunrise, workers prepare the sugarcanes in the farm by cutting them, and then cleaning them from dry crusts, tying them in bundles in preparation for transporting them to the factory for squeezing of sugarcane juice.

“My factory is open for all people who cultivate sugarcane. They bring the sugarcane daily, but according to a schedule I set and supervise to ensure that the work goes orderly,” he noted.

“Then workers help me put sugarcane sticks in the squeezing machine to extract the juice which is locally called ‘sharij’. The process was previously carried out by animals to run these machines, while now it works with electricity,” he said.

After that, the workers set fire to boil the juice and remove impurities, and this process continues for about three hours until the juice is soft ) cooked) and the water evaporates and turns into liquid sugar.

After cooking, the red sugar is transferred to a room where sunlight is never in. It is left in cement containers to dry and then transferred in pots of fronds to filter it from impurities. Then it becomes ready for sale and consumption and having a shelf life of nearly two years.

Red sugar is usually the main product that is extracted from sugarcane, but there are other industries such as ‘Zeej’ which is less dense sugar and is used as a substitute for natural honey and palm honey (debs).

The ‘Zeej’ is manufactured with the same procedure of making red sugar but the time taken is less. It does not have to be dried completely, as impurities are removed more than once, and upon ripening, rose water, cardamom powder and saffron are added and then put for sale.

Red sugar is very popular among Omanis, as it treats many diseases, especially intestinal diseases. It is also used as a warm drink during the winter season and cold beverage during the summer, and is widely used in Omani sweets like ‘Halwa’.

The locally manufactured red sugar industry is a source of income for many Omani families, and as Al Kindi indicates that its price varies from year to year, depending on the availability and quantity of the harvest.

In the last two years, the red sugar witnessed an increase in price. “Three years ago, the price of a Kilo was RO2.5, while this year it is available for 4 Rials. This is because the number of farmers involved in sugarcane farming was more and the production was high compared to now,” he explained.

“A lot of people come to buy red sugar from my factory, and we are open to delivery in Dakilya Governorate and sometimes in Muscat and Al Batinah governorates,” he shared.

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