Panela is an unrefined and non centrifuged whole cane sugar from Central and South America and has been around for at least 500 years. Made from crushed sugar cane, the juice is collected, boiled and poured into molds, where it hardens into blocks, is stirred to become granular or stays a liquid. Panela was originally created as an easier way to transport sugar.
Sugar cane was once used by farmers here in the Montero region for making alcohol. They used to farm corn and rice here but those crops only have one harvest whereas panela has many. Farmers here heard that Norandino co-op needed more Fair Trade sugar for export, this was an opportunity for the local farmers to grow a crop that would provide sustainable jobs and reduce the domestic violence due to the alcohol use.
The co-op we visited has 20 members aged 35- 70 years old and processed 15 tons of sugar cane a day. They built this production facility 3 years ago.
Once a farmer has cut the stalks they need to be processed with in three days. The farmers hire workers to cut the stalks by hand and if close enough it is transported by donkey and if further away the co-op rents a truck to pick up the sugar cane.
The farmers we spoke with testified that because of Fair Trade they have a better quality of life, less stress, more time to spend with family, no more domestic violence and are able to send their children to school. Currently they are saving their premiums to buy a pick up truck so that they don't have to rent a truck anymore for picking up the farmers crop. The cost is about $30 000 US.
Pressing the juice out.
Filter and collection of the juice.
Goes through a few evaporations.
Testing to see if it's ready to be stirred.
Stirring time! This can take up to half hour, they do this about 20 times a day. As it cools it starts to harden and they need to keep stirring it or it would turn into a hard block.
Yum. The purest way to eat your sugar.