File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN - Parliament's portfolio committee on trade and industry said on Thursday that it was well aware that the sugar industry was experiencing challenges as engagements to alleviate the plight of local sugarcane farmers had been ongoing for over a year.

Joanmariae Fubbs, committee chairperson, said the challenges ranged from a lack of transformation and drought, to concerns around pricing, imports and the implications of the recent tax on sugary beverages.

"Many of these matters came to the fore when they were highlighted to the committee by the South African Development Farmers Association in late 2017. The committee immediately prioritised the matter and went on an oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal in January last year," she said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) this week said it wrote to Fubbs requesting an urgent joint meeting with the committees of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and of land reform and rural development to discuss the imminent threat facing the sugar industry.

DA spokesperson on trade and industry, Dean MacPherson, said sugar cane farmers were not receiving any assistance following a three-year drought in KwaZulu-Natal, resulting in 500,000 tons of sugar being "dumped", as well as increasing tariffs.  

MacPherson said if sugar cane farming implodes, it would have devastating consequences for the 350,000 people who work in this sector and which contributes R14 billion to the economy.

But Fubbs refuted this, saying major initiatives had been implemented relating to transformation which has led to the reconfiguration of the industry body, and to measures that have adjusted the sugar tariff upwards and saved at least 30,000 jobs.

"The committee should be commended for this progressive intervention within a very short space of time. Our continued engagements and monitoring of all stakeholders in the sector led to this milestone," Fubbs said.

"We are well aware that much more needs to be done by the committee and the department and we urge Mr Dean Macpherson, who serves on the committee, to appreciate the work that has already been done as well as the time constraints we face and assure him that we will highlight this as a priority to our next parliament."

African News Agency (ANA)