Small scale sugar cane farmer Higgins Mdluli is among those hit hard by the decline in the sector caused by a myriad factors and exacerbated by the importation of cheap sugar from other countries.
The Covid-19 lockdown had an unexpected effect on the sugar industry while other farmers in the wining and tobacco sector have shut operations down entirely. Government recently released The Sugar Master Plan aimed at helping the sugar cane industry regain its sweetness.
“In areas like mine [Mpumalanga] there’s only sugar cane. That’s all we have. Everyone from mothers and fathers and even children depends on this, so we do need all the rescue plans more than ever,” Mdluli told Mukuruku Media recently in reaction to the government’s Sugar Master Plan.
The plan which is set to be a sight for innovation and inventiveness in an otherwise dormant industry was recently signed by departments of trade, industry and competition minister Ebrahim Patel and minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Thoko Didiza alongside industry takeholders.
The sugar master plan is a series of acts and proposals put forward by the government as a way to remedy the issues that have been facing the industry for decades. According to the South African Sugar Cane Association (SASA) since the beginning of lockdown there has been a 10% decrease in imported sugar with 20% of those being deep-sea exports.
SASA attributes this to the larger goal being a fundamental shift in agricultural policy and output and its role in our larger economy as a way to promote positive economic growth in a country that has been devastated by the worldwide recession. The sugar master plan has however been criticised for its top-down approach and critics say while it does focus on the larger picture of the industry, there is concern that smaller farmers would fall through
the cracks in this transition.
“I believe that with the plan there is more of a potential to have communities built around sugar cane that can promise to develop other sectors such as education and other things that will elevate the community,” Mdluli said. The sugar master plan is aimed to specifically focus on the 19 300 small sugar growers of which 18 770 are black and a growing number of which are beginning to include women.
To Mdluli, programmes such as the sugar master plan are essential to the livelihoods of agricultural provinces such as Mpumalanga and places like Kwazulu Natal have had generations build their livelihoods on the prospects of the success of the sugar industry. The Government Gazettes Amendments to the Regulations Governing the South African Sugar Industry’ notes that there has been a decline in the production of sugar by 25% in 20 years and the number of farmers in the has dropped by 60% and over 45% of jobs in the sugar industry were lost.
The master plan has proposed a price restraint. while this does provide a gold standard of sorts as well as this method to ensure further stability in the pricing. The government has planned to pipe R640 million
rands into the sugar industry for over 5 years. – Mukurukuru Media
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