The area currently occupied by sugar cane in Madeira is nearly 172 ha. The cane fields and the mills in operation are a tourist attraction and the region’s historical traditions based on this culture remain very much alive.
But this was not always the case. Like everything of value, Madeira Rum has a long history, not always easy, not always predictable, but certainly persevering. Hence this rare spirit, impossible to imitate, that seduces true connoisseurs.
1419 Discovery of the Island of Madeira by Portuguese navigators João Gonçalves Zarco, Tristão Vaz Teixeira and Bartolomeu Perestrello.
1425 Start of settlement. The introduction of sugar cane was made through stakes from Sicily.
1466 Due to the edaphoclimatic conditions, sugar became the main produce from Madeira. It was exported to mainland Portugal, the Gulf of Guinea and Africa and also reached the Mediterranean and Northern European markets.
With the abundance of raw materials, the technology – currently used worldwide – to produce and transform sugar cane into sugar, honey, rum and alcohol was born in Madeira during this century.
Surplus sugar cane production, soil depletion and the competition from sugar cane from Brazil, led to a crisis.
Sugar cane disease. To circumvent the situation and the competition, Madeira invested in the cultivation of other products such as vines, cider apples and other fruits. Sugar cane crushing decreased considerably.
The cultivation of vines became the preferred focus, and the space available for cane fields continued to decrease.
In the first half of the century, pests in the vineyard created the need to recover other crops. The cultivation of sugar cane then resurfaced and the cane fields were rebuilt with new varieties. However, in the second half of the century a fungus attacked the cane fields, destroying them almost completely.
Then, at the end of the century, the cultivation of sugar cane started to expand again, serving the sugar industry and the manufacture of agricultural rum. The first sugar cane spirit distillation devices appeared on the island.
The 1930s Sugar cane cultivation, which occupied an area of 6500 ha, declined again due to the delimitation of agricultural areas and remained in decline during the second half of the 20th century.
The 1980s After the closure of a number of industrial units important for the disposal of production, the area of cultivation decreased to about 90 ha. Farmers started to turn to other crops.
There has been a resurgence in the production of sugar cane. Given the greater demand for Madeira Rum, there has been technical support for plantations and new incentives for production and manufacturing from the Regional Government. The derivatives have also increased and been championed, thus enabling an entire world of history, heritage and economy typical of this land to be kept alive.