OPINION: Small-scale growers are key to the future of the sugar industry
JOHANNESBURG - As the country moves into level four lockdown this week, the sugar industry along with the rest of the agriculture sector, remains committed to ensuring food security during these unprecedented times.
The South African Canegrowers Association has been tirelessly supporting its members to ensure business continuity while safeguarding the health and safety of farmers, farm workers and the communities they work in.
The Association also recognises that Covid-19 poses particular risks to the agriculture sector, most especially small-scale farmers. These risks include the availability of farm labour, the disruption of markets for farm products and new financial challenges.
We, therefore, welcome recent efforts by the national government to support small-scale farmers during the pandemic. It is imperative that we do what we can to protect the livelihoods of the thousands of small-scale farmers who form the backbone of many rural communities in our country.
But at SA Canegrowers, we’ve been tackling the effects of an industry crisis for many years and have long recognised the foundational role played by small-scale growers in the sugar industry value chain.
Over half of our 20 217 members are emerging small-scale black farmers and we have continually prioritised the provision of programmes aimed at ensuring our industry’s fundamental and necessary transformation.
Through the sugar industry’s Grower Development Account (GDA), Banking (Umthombo Agricultural Fund) and Supplementary Payment Fund (SPF) R766 million has been committed to grower development projects since 2000.
SA Canegrowers, through its members alone, has contributed R493m more than two-thirds of the total industry investment. And we’re not stopping there: the growers also contributed to a Sugar Industry Transformation Fund bringing their total commitment to R732m. It is envisaged this industry investment will total R1 billion over a five-year period.
On the ground, we have ensured that small-scale farmers are paid a preferential price and receive training, business support and assistance - all subsidised by our commercial grower members. The industry has also provided bursaries for tertiary education to small-scale growers through an education trust fund. This fund has provided bursaries to over 10 200 students in total in the sugarcane growing provinces.
Land-restitution and distribution has been an ongoing focus for SA Canegrowers: at least 22 percent of white-owned land has been transferred to black ownership.
SA Canegrowers has also provided support, such as training in sugarcane farming practices and financial management to over 323 land reform beneficiaries, as they joined the industry, to ensure that successful and sustainable land reform projects are integrated into the mainstream agricultural economy.
Based on our years of engagement with small-scale growers and our numerous development projects for the sector, SA Canegrowers was able to make meaningful contributions over recent months on their behalf to the Sugar Industry Masterplan.
The longevity of the sugar industry has been in question in recent years due to a confluence of simultaneous threats.
These have included weak protection against cheap imports, the ravages of unprecedented droughts, plunging world sugar prices and a major drop in local demand for sugar due to the introduction of the sugar tax (or Health Promotion Levy).
We have, therefore, welcomed the government’s commitment to working with sugarcane growers and sugar millers in our combined goal to develop sustainable solutions for the industry.
This has culminated in a comprehensive Masterplan between national government, the sugar industry, labour and the retail and wholesale sector that is focused on stabilizing and restructuring the industry over the next three years.
One of the main strategic objectives of the Masterplan is ensuring the foundational role of small-scale growers in the sugarcane value-chain is preserved and extended. It also focuses on guaranteeing the sustainable inclusion of small-scale growers in a diversified sugar industry in the future.
SA Canegrowers will continue to work with national government and our industry counterparts over the coming months to develop a comprehensive plan to support to small-scale growers. This will include a proposal on a preferential pricing and support package that is linked to the value of products sold; that supports the financial sustainability of small-scale growers and avoids potential value-capture by third parties and service providers.
A strong, unified and competitive sugarcane ecosystem that works hand in hand with the government, labour and the retail sector is the only way that small-scale growers will be able to flourish.
SA Canegrowers is determined that no small-scale grower will be left behind.
The finalization of the Masterplan is a major milestone and we must ensure that the social and economic impact of Covid-19 does not undo the groundbreaking work that has been achieved over the past year.
Dipuo Ntuli is the vice- chairperson of the South African Canegrowers Association.