Sugar canewas one of the first crops domesticated by human beings. It was a giant memberof the grass family, with a stem as thick as bamboo but filled with sweet juicypith. The sugar revolution was influenced by the rising demand for sugar inEurope.
Sugar was used as a sweetener for tea and coffee. Although it cannot besaid to have an exact beginning, the decline of the Caribbean sugar industrymight be dated from 1747, when in Germany a chemist, Andreas Maggraf (1709-82)showed that sugar in the root of beet is the same as the sugar found from cane.It took another half-century for beet sugar production to begin on a commercialscale, because it was still cheaper to make sugar from cane in the Caribbeanusing slave labour, so beet only began to seriously compete with sugar caneafter 1870.
The British government did not want its colonies makingmanufactured goods to compete with products from England. They made a policycalled ‘mercantilism’. A country’s wealth depends on getting cheap rawmaterials from colonies and then making manufactured goods and selling withinnational borders, back to colonies and to other countries. The request for WestIndian sugar drastically decreases because of taxes on West Indian sugar wereremoved due to the Sugar Duties Equalization Act, 1846. Duties were equalizedon British West Indian, British East Indian and foreign colonial sugar enteringthe British market which meant the West Indian planters now had morecompetition for markets to sell their sugar. The British West Indies could nolonger compete against larger suppliers such as Cuba and Brazil. After emancipation there was a shortageof labour on plantations because the ex-slaves refused to return to plantationsto work under the harsh conditions of the planters and wanted a salary for anywork given. Those who left the plantations established themselves as peasantcultivators, they planted small-scale market crops, provisions and keptlivestock.
Skilled Africans moved to towns where they were employed asblacksmiths and carpenters. Africans often supplemented their incomes byworking part time on the plantations but the planters found their labourunsatisfactory since they were accustomed to cheap full time labourers duringslavery. A number of planters were overburdenedwith debt and forced out of production. Planters had borrowed extensively fromBritish merchants in order to increase their level of production and wereunable to repay their loans because of low profits. Banks and merchant houseswere hesitant about giving loans to planters due to the failing sugar economy. 1(Mahaseand Baldeosingh, 118-120)