The South African Farmers Development Association aims to be the voice of black farmers in the sugar cane industry, who previously had not been heard
JOHANNESBURG - A response to Rex Talmage’s article in Business Report on Tuesday, “Low tariff on sugar imports a big threat”. It is true that the long droughts, health promotion levy (sugar tax) and inadequate tariff protection are threats to the industry. However, I would contend that the biggest threat facing the domestic sugar industry is the lack of transformation.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is the custodian of transformation in South Africa, having introduced the Codes of Good Practice in 2004 and a number of sector charters. Interestingly, the sugar industry as a sector is accountable to the Department of Trade and Industry.

It is only since the birth of Safda (the South African Farmers Development Association), which the industry has only officially recognised a few months ago, that the sugar industry has been seriously looking at the matter of transformation.

This is not just the window dressing of appointing a few black faces to boards and senior management level - but real transformation as evidenced through the seven pillars of ownership, management control, employment equity, skills development, preferential procurement, enterprise and supplier development as well as socio-economic development.

In fact, the only reason that Safda exists is because the voices of the black sugar-cane farmer in general and the African farmer in particular were not heard. We have been fighting for recognition of our people as independent voices in the sugar industry for a number of years.

It is only through the intervention of the parliamentary portfolio committee on trade and industry that the industry has been dragged kicking and screaming into ensuring that true transformation is realised. That battle continues.

Talmage, therefore, takes liberties with the truth in claiming that Cane Growers “represents almost 24000 independent sugar cane farmers” and “more than half of all emerging small-scale black farmers”.

Struggling

South Africa does not currently have 24 000 sugar-cane farmers and Cane Growers certainly does not represent more than half of all emerging small-scale black farmers.

Farmers are indeed struggling. An overwhelming majority of farmers - 90percent - produce sugar cane on tiny pieces of land (sometimes as little as 0.5hectares). But, they only provide about 10percent of the local sugar-cane crop. This is not a new challenge - and has certainly not been brought about by drought, taxes or tariffs.

Cane Growers has had almost a century to focus on improving the lives of millions of black small-scale and land reform sugar-cane farmers and contribute to rural economies. However, their focus has obstinately remained on servicing less than 10percent of white commercial farmers who deliver 90percent of South Africa’s sugar-cane crop.

It is, therefore, disingenuous and a blatant lie to talk about investment in grower development. The economic definition of an investment is “doing something today to create wealth in future”.

Talmage contends that Cane Growers has invested millions of rand exclusively in black small-scale farmers - yet these are the very same farmers who have received zero income for the 2017-18 production season. Some are even highly indebted with no money to even feed their families. Visit any one of our rural sugar-cane-growing communities in either KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga and it is clearly visible that no such wealth has been created for the black farmer.

In fact, there has been a marked decline in the number of black small-scale sugar-cane farmers in South Africa - from about 50 000 in 2010 to about 18 000 today (contrary to the bloated figure that Talmage contends).

Why would there be such a marked decline in the numbers if these so-called investments were having the desired effect of wealth creation?

So, on behalf of the thousands of black small-scale and land reform sugar-cane farmers who call Safda home, I stand up to say no, not in my name. The propaganda and fake news penned by Talmage is not in my name. The preservation of the status quo is not in my name - and the alleged millions that have been “invested” in killing off black sugar-cane farmers is certainly not in my name!

Siyabonga Madlala is the chairperson of the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda).

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT