You can get a cold mug of sugarcane juice at almost any market in Singapore where hawkers extract sap directly from the stalks without using any additives. (You can see the pressing machine in the photograph.)
Sugarcane is not a fruit but a type of grass that resembles bamboo. From plantations around the world, the stalk voyages across multiple seas and borders before landing up at the hawker stall.
How exactly does the sugarcane find its way from the plantation to the hawker stall? Singapore gets almost all its sugarcane from its neighbour, Malaysia: close to USD $3 million worth of sugarcane arrives on the island annually. Malaysia has a few of its own plantations, but receives shipments from China and Italy.
China is one of the top sugarcane growers in the world and bolsters its stock from Myanmar and Laos. Meanwhile, Italy gets most of its sugarcane from Colombia, a dominant global producer hailing from the 16th century when the Spaniards introduced the plant as a cash crop.
In the flurry of trading sugarcane, the pathway into Singapore looks something like this:
Malaysia ⇐ China ⇐ Myanmar & Laos
Italy ⇐ Columbia & China
Of course, this relationship is entirely dynamic: the story changes quickly over the years and looks remarkably different across regions, for example, the USA gets the bulk of its sugarcane from Mexico and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the sugarcane plant has been pivoted into a popular and contentious source of “green energy” in Latin and North America which is impacting the global economics of food and fuel.
In Singapore, you can get a mug of fresh sugarcane juice from $1 to $1.50 (less than an American dollar), and if you’re looking to excite the flavour a little more, hawkers will throw in a prune or lemon for an extra zing. Enjoy!
*Trade data is from 2013 and derived from this brilliant visualization tool: http://atlas.media.mit.edu/
If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below!
Shopkeeper Stories is a photographic documentary of small business owners and their trades around the world, sharing insights, stories and views. You can see all the posts on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories