Open pan sugar milling

Open pan (OP) sugar milling is increasingly recognised in Africa as a suitable production method for deep-rural, small-scale cane growers.
The Owen Sithole Agricultural College in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, is currently installing a demonstration unit to train students in this low-tech process developed in India for the production of jaggery (also called gur), an ancient art of sugar making.
Meanwhile it is reported from Uganda that there are an estimated 300 jaggery mills, processing around 200t cane per year.
In its most basic form, jaggery can be produced by crushing cane and boiling the juice in simple pans heated over fires which burn on bagasse.
OP sugar milling is ideal for small- scale farmers who want to become commercial producers because of its low-tech requirements and the elimination of costly transport of cane to large mills, says Joseph Foli, principal of the Owen Sithole college. KZN is an ideal producer region because of its proximity to large Indian-origin communities, who know and use jaggery.
Jaggery is rich in minerals and vitamins and is used as an ingredient in both sweet and savoury dishes across India and Sri Lanka. It is also a delicacy in its own right. The great Indian chef and cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey writes about a jaggery board, like a cheese board, as a type of dessert course in a Bengali dinner. Varieties of palm and sugar cane jaggeries are offered, differing in taste, colour, and solidity.
Jaggery is also molded into novelty shapes as a type of candy. Other uses of jaggery include toffees and cakes made with pumpkin preserve, cashew nuts and spices.
Chikkis – confectioneries similar to brittle – are made by combining jaggery paste with ingredients such as nuts, till or sesame.
In Mexico and South America, jaggery is known as panela. A Colombian product, for instance, combines panela and lemon in a cube to be dissolved in hot water as a refreshing alternative to tea.
Lately jaggery has had application in the production of organic produce such as jams and toppings as it is unrefined and no chemicals are added during manufacture.
More sophisticated plants
Although equipment can be basic, more sophisticated plants are available, largely from India. A source of information on these is the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in New Delhi.
Tinytech, an Indian company seeking to promote small enterprise and rural development in various industrial fields, has a complete jaggery plant available that can crush 1t/hour of cane, producing about 3t/day of jaggery. It consists of a three-roller crusher, a set of four boiling pans, foundation frame, pulley, beltings, centrifugal juice pump and electric motor. It costs $6,200 and can be shipped worldwide.
In South Africa, attempts at producing OP equipment and sugar have been made, albeit not hugely successfully so far. The unit at Owen Sithole is being built by Ed Grantham from Empangeni. It has a 30t/day capacity. Grantham, who operates an OP system on his farm, has long been campaigning for the South African government to introduce this method in as a means of rural agricultural development, but has yet to receive support.
Attempts by Chris Matthews of the Good Sugar Co of South Africa to introduce a wholesome sugar produced by modernised OP production have failed so far, due to the product being niche and requiring too-expensive marketing.
Matthews had developed a 50t/day plant and had planned to franchise the concept.
ICAR: Tel +91-(0)11-2584-3415, 2584-2284, ext 1408; fax +91-(0)11-2584-2660;
Tinytech: Tel +91- 281-2480166; fax + 91-281-2467552;
Grantham: Tel +27-35 7911640;
Matthews: Tel +27-33-3431719; 072 362 8742;