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Manuelita: The innovative sugar empire

Article - April 8, 2014
Manuelita celebrates a century and a half of pioneering innovation and sweet success
This month, Manuelita celebrates its 150th anniversary.

This is not to say that this venerable lady is frail and outdated. Quite the contrary. Manuelita has had innovation in its DNA ever since it was created, in somewhat romantic circumstances, by James Martin Eder, an American entrepreneur emigrated from the long gone Baltic Duchy of Courland (now Latvia). Don Santiago Eder, as he came to be known, bought at an auction an hacienda called “La Manuelita”, situated near Palmira in the Cauca Valley, a region known for its abundance of sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, indigo and quinine.
“The sugar sector is a high employment generator if you check the number of jobs created per dollar billed. We generate approx. 7,000 posts”

He planted various crops but eventually centered on sugar, and on “the first day of the first year of the 20th century”, he inaugurated the first sugar mill steam engine of Colombia, to replace the old mule powered mill. 
Today, Don Santiago’s descendent, Harold Eder, holds the reins of the group. “We have innovated ever since our creation,” says Mr. Eder. “Not only in terms of industrial know-how, but also in social rights, involvement in the community, and the protection of the environment.” Over the years, the company has become an international group present in Colombia, Peru, Chile and Brazil. 
Now Manuelita looks to diversifying into renewable energies, an area in which it has heavily invested recently. “We were among the first to produce ethanol from sugar cane, and we want to remain technological leaders in the Cauca valley,” says Mr. Eder.