The Sugar Trade

Caribbean sugar trade

The history of Caribbean agricultural is closely linked with European colonialism which altered the financial potential of the region by introducing a plantation system. Much like the Spanish enslaved indigenous Indians to work in gold mines, the 17th century brought a new series of oppressors in the form of the Dutch, the English, and the French. By the middle of the 18th century sugar was Britain's largest import which made the Caribbean that much more important as a colony. 

Sugar was a luxury in Europe prior to the 18th century when it became widely popular and by the 19th Century it had graduated to become a necessity. This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes. Caribbean islands with plentiful sunshine, abundant rainfalls and no extended frosts were well suited for sugarcane agriculture and sugar factories.

Following the emancipation of slaves in 1833 in the United Kingdom, many liberated Africans left their former masters. This created economic chaos for British owners of Caribbean sugar cane plantations. The hard work in hot, humid farms required a regular, docile and low-waged labour force. The British looked for cheap labour which they found initially in China and then mostly in India.

The “New World” plantations were established in order to fulfill the growing needs of the “Old World”. The sugar plantations were built with the intention of exporting the sugar back to Europe. The result of this economic exploitation was a plantation dependence which saw the Caribbean nations possessing a large quantity of unskilled workers performing agricultural tasks. After many years of colonial rule the nations also saw no profits brought into their country since the sugar production was controlled by the colonial rulers. This left the Caribbean nations with little capital to invest towards enhancing any future industries unlike European nations which were developing rapidly and separating themselves technologically and economically from most impoverished nations of the world.