A sugarcane juice stall can be an oasis in a bustling market, and there are a myriad of vendors peddling freshly pressed sugarcane juice to weary shoppers looking for a cool drink and a rush of energy in Rabat’s medina. Hassan is one such vendor, combining the distinctive sweetness of sugarcane with a hint of lemon and a pinch of salt for five dirhams a glass.
“It’s cheap, and everyone loves it. Sugarcane is easy to sell,” he says. Hassan’s stall, resting in the shade amidst various shops selling everything from shoes to snails, is marked by a large bundle of green sugarcane stalks, ready to be fed into the pressing machine to be made into juice. Five dirhams, the equivalent of pocket change, may not be a lot, but it adds up – Hassan serves anywhere from 100 to 200 people each day. “Hot days are best. When people sweat, they drink.”
The numerous sugarcane stalls within a small area may suggest fierce competition, but all the pressing machines in the stretch of shops on avenue Mohammed V known as Lagza are owned by a few men who organize their network of vendors like large franchises. Each vendor pays to rent his machine and must give a percentage of his profits to the owner– the location of the stall and the sales are left to the vendor.
The sugarcane vendors in Lagza are supplied by small groups of farmers who bring their crops to Rabat to sell from the town of SidiAllalTazi in western Morocco. Sugarcane is used in a number of food products and even for energy, but the consumption of raw sugarcane remains extremely profitable, especially in cities. Every few days a large supply of sugarcane is bought by the owners of the pressing machines and distributed among the vendors at sunrise, before the marketplace is crowded.
As a result of selling the same quality product at the same price, any lingering competition between vendors is based solely on location. Hassan, who pays for his spot in the marketplace, does not worry about making more or less than nearby sugarcane vendors. Over the years, he has built up a group of regulars, both shopkeepers and shoppers who are often nearby and stop to get a drink and chat.
“You can buy sugarcane everywhere – they come here to talk to me,” said Hassan, whose stall seems to be as much a place for conversation as a place to quench thirst. Attracting new customers in the busy marketplace is a challenge, he admits, but Hassan is confident in his skills. “Give them a sweet drink and speak to them a little, and they will come back tomorrow.”
Photo 1 – Hassan’s sugarcane stand. By: Amulya Shankar
Photo 2 – Some of Hassan’s regulars, having a drink and a chat. By: Amulya Shankar
Photo 3 – Pressing sugarcane juice. By: Amulya Shankar