With the close of the sugarcane season looming, the SA Farmers Development Association (Safda) has called on urgent action to resolve the issue of small-scale farmers not having access to mills. Safda chairperson Siyabonga Madlala said the government must intervene and save small-scale sugarcane farmers from being crushed. “By the finish of this season, two million tons of sugarcane won’t be crushed, and this is greater than what small-scale growers ship per season,” he said.
“Large-scale commercial sugarcane farms account for 90% of the sugarcane production, whereas small-scale farmers represent 10% of the production. “The looming disaster will not solely have an effect on particular… growers, but in addition secondary beneficiaries like contractors, workers and their households,” he warned. Madlala said that sugar regulations must not be used against small-scale farmers, many of whom had been affected by recent civil unrest. “Sections 119 to 122 of the Sugar Industry Agreement 2000 talks about rateable deliveries where a farmer gets an allocation of the quantity of sugarcane that they can deliver to the sugar mill during the season,” he explained.
Deliveries were broken down into daily, weekly and monthly allocations that made up the total seasonal allocation. “The sugar business used to have 14 sugar mills. However, lately, two mills had been shut down in Port Shepstone and Darnall in Kwa-Zulu Natal,” Madlala said. “This has created a big problem of not having enough milling capacity to crush the sugarcane crop that farmers produce per season.” In an open letter to Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, Dladla highlighted these issues.
“Safda understands that the sugarcane crop of 5,446,822 tons estimated at the beginning of the season is still there, however, the THS crush rates thus far this season have been such that the official estimated crush has now dropped to 4,721,661 after diversions, and a drop of 724,866 tons of sugar cane,” the letter reads. “This means that farmers delivering to THS mills will forgo approximately R500-million in income this year, constituting about 15% of their collective revenue. “However, within the industry, small-scale growers will lose 100% of their income given their scale of operation and the way access to milling capacity is being rationed,” the letter warns.
Mandla recommended that the minister amend Section 121 of the industry agreement to include all small-scale growers to avert what he believed was a looming crisis of biblical proportions.