Durban - WITH an estimated 20 200 sugar cane growers in Kwazulu-Natal and southern Mpumalanga, sugar cane farming remains the lifeblood of rural communities.
However, the industry is facing a crisis as it has been shown in reports that sugar production in South Africa has declined by 25% over the last 20 years.
This has been due to manipulated sugar prices, increasing volumes of low-priced tariff- free exports and the sugar containing drink tax that was introduced in April 2018With these factors, the demand for sugar is expected to decline, and ultimately jobs in the sugar cane industry could be under threat.
To stem the tide, the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development signed off on the Sugar Industry Master Plan, which will protect jobs in the sugar cane industry, bring about greater regulation and create alternative income streams for commercial and small scale farmers.
Reskilling of farmers will also be core to the plan which utilises facilities to produce bioethanol, bio jet fuel, biomass and biogas.
The initiative is overseen by a number of task teams which include the South African Millers Association, South African Cane Growers Association and the Department of Labour.
The plan will begin with a two- to three-year plan to restructure the industry with phase one slated for restructuring and setting the foundations for diversification which will target transformation, small-scale grower retention, support and price restraint certainty.
The plan was unveiled in Pongola and was well received. Farmer Siphesihle Ndwandwe, who started farming in 2015, said that the plan will provide a much needed framework with some of the challenges that farmers in the area have had to contend with.
“When I first started farming on this land I faced great difficulties as it was in the midst of the drought that had hit Northern KZN, and on top of that I had little experience as a farmer. Life was hard at the time but it comes as a relief that we’re seeing the government coming to our aid in this way.”
“The addition of reskilling of the industry will also help broaden our knowledge so that we as farmers can thrive even under constantly changing conditions,” added Ndwandwe.
Phumelela Emerging Farmers’ Association Treasurer, Zitha Dlamini, said that he had high hopes for the initiative.
“If the plan works the way it’s supposed to, it will present numerous opportunities for sugar cane farming not only here but across the country. With the constant closing of factories and people losing their jobs, farming remains the people’s saving grace so it is important to put more emphasis on supporting and promoting farming.”
“From our perspective we hope that the value of sugar cane will increase and that sugar cane farming will be an economic driver for the community. I would like to thank the department of agriculture for their support and they have been there for us with funding through the drought in 2015, and today again, they are undertaking a plan to help all farmers.”