El Salvador’s Sugar Cane


For many years now, sugar cane has helped El Salvador’s economy by generating thousands of jobs (with very long workdays and insignificant pay). El Salvador has majority of the work is centred around cutting the cane, loading it on big trucks, and hauling it to sugar cane mills where it is transformed into the white powder we all love.

The cultural, unofficial sugar mill season takes place between the months of March and April, particularly in rural communities. One of the sugar cane workers is Heriberto Cruz. He has a small space where he works the cane to turn it into sweets, and obtain a few profits from a store he manages in Cantón Carasque, in the municipality of Nueva Trinidad.

Sugar industry suffered losses of up to 18% in the 2015-2016 season due to lack of rain and climate change. The bad season represented a loss of nearly 60 million dollars for sugar-business owners.

Heriberto, along with his family, wakes up at midnight to begin pounding the sugar cane, and they finish their work nearly 12 hours later. “You don’t make much from this,” he says. “But you do get to maintain this tradition.”

As of 2017, sugar workers received an increase in their salary. Before that raise, people collecting sugar cane earned roughly $109 every month. However, since the beginning of this year, they’ve began earning nearly $224 a month.

“Even though you don’t really earn a fair salary, the mill is an activity that helps us enjoy time together as a family. My daughter loves spending time watching the process until the sugar turns into honey,” related Ismael Menjívar, another worker at one of the mills.

Cane suop takes around six hours to change into a thick honey substance, meanwhile the fire must keep burning brightly. Photo: Menjivar

Townspeaople mix the sugar cane honey. Photo: Menjivar

Stirring the sugar cane honey is an artform. Photo: Menjivar

Heriberto and Vicente take the mold and turn it to make the complete packs of panela. Photo: Menjivar

Panela sugar blocks are used for traditional preserved food. The blocks sell for $0.50 on local stores. Photo: Menjivar

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