Accepted Paper:

Propagations: The economic and energetic lives of Mauritian sugarcane  


Jessica Caporusso (York University)

Paper short abstract:

In its pursuit of energy security, Mauritius has refigured sugarcane from a colonial cash crop into a modern biofuel. This paper focuses on the work of making cane economically and energetically productive—a process that exploits the generative capacity of plants to envision “green” energy futures.

Paper long abstract:

In the small-island developing state of Mauritius, energy security depends on a socially combustive mix of petrochemicals and renewable energy. One such renewable, sugarcane biomass—discards of the sugarcane plant after sucrose extraction—has been recently championed as a modern, sustainable biofuel. This reimagining of plant waste into energy feedstocks capitalizes on mounting demands for environmentally friendly sources of power in an ecologically fragile island context. By concentrating on the realization of Mauritian waste-to-bioenergy schemes, this paper traces the material and figurative transformation of plant excess into potentialized energy. I follow two groups—sugarcane biomass technologists and environmental justice activists—to understand the ways that plant matter has become absorbed, displaced or conscripted into debates around energy security. By studying leftovers of Mauritian sugarcane, I focus on how trajectories of colonial-era commodity crops come to matter in conversations with and in 'doings' of postcolonial energy production. I pay particular attention to how such models of cash crop exploitation capitalize on the generative capacity of plants, rendering new forms of value out of biowaste. As a result, I try to make sense of the possibilities and constraints of using discards of sugarcane, a plant rooted in colonialism, as feedstock to actualize energy futures. This paper contributes to emerging debates on the contradictory impulse towards sustainable consumption and economic resilience in postcolonial energetic landscapes.

Panel T124
Energy Beyond Crisis: Energetic Bodies, Ecologies, and Economies