The sugar-cane landscape of the Caribbean Islands: Resilience, adaptation and transformation of the plantation social—ecological system

William Found, Marta Berbés-Blázquez

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Introduction The plantation sugar-cane landscape has been the most distinctive cultural landscape in a number of Caribbean islands since colonisation, surviving in its basic form for over 500 years. We regard it as the physical manifestation of a well-defined social–ecological system that has demonstrated remarkable resilience – defined as ‘the capacity of a system to experience shocks while retaining essentially the same function, structure, feedback and, therefore, identity’ (Walker et al., 2006). While the landscape has survived in its general form for centuries, the plantation system it reflects has undergone dynamic changes in space and time that have facilitated resilience, changes that have included a transition from the system’s most notorious feature – slavery – to the current period of rationalisation and decline. This chapter illustrates how one can understand the sugar-cane landscape through the lens of resilience thinking – and through reference to the heuristics of adaptive cycles and panarchy, in particular. It also offers interpretations of different forms of sugar-cane landscape as cultural landscapes, and illustrates how this perspective can be combined with resilience thinking to enrich our understanding of landscape character and change. Caribbean sugar-cane cultural landscape Sugar-cane has been grown commercially in the Caribbean islands (Figure 10.1) since the early sixteenth century. The plantation is both an agricultural and an industrial site, and buildings important to production (e.g. mills, housing for workers) and populations supplying the labour form important components of the cultural landscape. At one time, most inhabited islands of the Caribbean produced cane, but the dates when cultivation was first introduced and then terminated, the technologies used in the agricultural/industrial process, the inclusion of non-sugar land uses in the landscape and the populations forming the labour supply have varied significantly from island to island. Even within individual islands, sugar-cane landscapes have reflected local variation. Large plantations, owned by individuals, companies or governments, have dominated the areas of sugar production, tending to occupy the land with the highest quality, but small properties, sometimes using traditional techniques on marginal lands, have coexisted. Thus, while the distinctive light-green sugar-cane component of the landscape has persisted for centuries, its dominant visual impact has tended to obscure important space/time variations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResilience and the Cultural Landscape
Subtitle of host publicationUnderstanding and Managing Change in Human-Shaped Environments
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139107778
ISBN (Print)9781107020788
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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