South African sugarcane farmers will be contributing R640 million over the next five years towards programmes aimed at supporting small-scale grower development and ensuring greater transformation within the industry.

This figure was announced at the SA Canegrowers 93rd annual general meeting, which also saw the election of the new board for the upcoming year. The board for 2020/21 is as follows:

Chairperson:

Rex Talmage

Vice-chairperson:

Dipuo Ntuli

Vice-chairperson:

Andrew Russell

Directors:

Dave Littley

Dieter Lütge 

Higgins Mdluli

Mfundo Msimango

Tim Murray

Kiki Mzoneli

Suresh Naidoo

Rejoice Ncwane

Pratish Sharma

Tim Sibisi

Graeme Stainbank

Focus on small-scale farmers

“Over half our 20 2017 members are emerging small-scale black farmers, which is why SA Canegrowers is prioritising programmes that focus on supporting and developing these growers,” said newly elected chairperson, Rex Talmage.

“These funds will be spent on a range of interventions including ensuring growers are paid a preferential price for their cane, agronomic and financial training, leadership development, entrepreneurial skills development, advanced financial management, as well as governance for co-operatives and director training. Funding will also be allocated to seed cane plots to provide newer sugarcane varieties to small-scale growers within their locality,” said Talmage.

SA Canegrowers also welcomed the fact that the recently finalised Sugar Industry Masterplan also ensure the foundational role of small-scale growers in the sugarcane value-chain is preserved and extended.

Vice-chairperson, Dipuo Ntuli, said that SA Canegrowers presented several well-researched ideas regarding small-scale grower sustainability during the masterplan process. These submissions were based on data, information and analysis that was collected during small-scale grower surveys and SA Canegrower’s 50-year history of supporting and training this sector.

“SA Canegrowers will continue to work with national government and our industry counterparts over the coming months to develop a comprehensive plan to support small-scale growers. This will include a proposal on a preferential pricing and support package that is linked to the value of products sold. The plan will also support the financial sustainability of small-scale growers and avoid potential value-capture by third parties and service providers,” said Ntuli.

Commitment to the Masterplan

Talmage also reaffirmed SA Canegrowers’ commitment to the Masterplan process: “We are fully committed to the success of the Masterplan and the creation of a more diversified sustainable industry that ensures meaningful and lasting synergistic participation of both commercial and small-scale growers in the sector.”

The COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown that commenced on 26 March 2020 poses new risks to the sugar cane industry, which has been under threat due to a confluence of factors over the past few years. This has included weak protection against cheap imports, an unprecedented drought, 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) two years ago.

Eswatini alone was expected to produce about 715 000 tons of sugar during the 2020/21 season. This sugar would mostly end up on the South African market free of any import tariffs in line with free trade agreements in the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). This would force local growers to export their domestic surplus onto an oversupplied world market, which at times is lower than the cost of producing their crop, resulting in an eroded RV price (the price which growers are paid for their sugarcane).

“As a result of these challenges, the future of the sugarcane industry continues to be under threat, including the futures of 21 000 black small-scale growers, 65 000 farmworkers as well as the 270 000 indirect jobs and the million livelihoods the industry supports,” said Talmage. – Press release, SA Canegrowers