South Africa’s province of KwaZulu-Natal is well-known for the lush growth of sugar cane on the hills. Driving along the Southcoast freeway (N2), especially in the rainy season, provides a pleasurable sensory experience with the various shades of bright green fields, darker green indigenous coastal flora, and occasional glimpses of the Indian Ocean in the background.
Sugar cane is harvested over the period April to December of each year when the sweet smell of burning sugarcane hangs in the air. The opportunity for mechanization of the harvesting process is greatly hampered by the hilly topography and inaccessibility of the area in which the cane is grown, which necessitates the burning of the cane.
Cutting sugar cane without burning is very difficult and time-consuming, as it requires workers to cut the stalk in specific places and manually remove the leaves. Burning makes harvesting easier and the flames drive away cane rats and snakes posing a threat to workers’ safety. It also reduces the weight of the harvested crop which reduces transport costs. As an added bonus, the heat increases the quality of the sucrose within the sugarcane stalk.
Harvesting sugar cane is hard work. The stalk is cut just above the ground with a cane knife, then bundled and loaded onto a tractor-trailer, as shown in a previous blog entry, to be further transported to the mills by heavy road vehicles. Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised this week by the sight of bright orange Canna flowers in a cane field next to the freeway. After putting in long hours of hard labor, the workers still found the time to beautify their environment, thereby enhancing the driving experience for tourists in the holiday season.