Agriculture and Environment: Sugarcane

Introduction

Sugar has arguably had as great an impact on the environment as any other agricultural commodity. Most of the environmental damage was loss of biodiversity, the result of wholesale conversion of habitat on tropical islands and on coastal areas.
While the impact of this conversion can never be documented because it happened hundreds of years ago, in all likelihood considerable endemic flora and fauna unique to the many thousands of islands on which sugar was planted was lost. The cultivation of sugar has also resulted in considerable soil erosion and degradation as
well as the use of chemical inputs to correct the resulting problems.

As a consequence, sugar has also had an important impact on other ecosystems. For example, sugar production has changed coastal hydrology. Siltation from soil erosion has clogged coastal ecosystems, especially coral reefs and sea grass beds, which are important to a wide range of species. Nutrient runoff from sugar cultivation has led to nutrient loading and eutrophication of freshwater and marine systems.

Finally, sugar mills are cleaned periodically, and the organic matter that is flushed can tie up all oxygen in nearby rivers as it decomposes. This in turn asphyxiates fish and other aquatic organisms.

Credits

Extracts from "World Agriculture & Environment" by Jason Clay - buy the book online from Island Press

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