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Black sugarcane farmers stifled by sugar tax

Despite being hit by government’s sugar tax, SA Canegrowers remain hopeful about the future. Outgoing chairperson Rex Talmage says, “Although there’s still a long way to go, there are finally positive signs of recovery.”

Mzansi's sugarcane industry makes an important contribution to the national economy, given its agricultural and industrial investments, foreign exchange earnings, its high employment, and its linkages with major suppliers, support industries and customers. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Over the past year alone, cane growers in Mzansi have contributed R128 million to the sugar industry’s annual transformation projects, which received R200 million in total. This funding was seen as a necessary contribution to many small-scale and largely black growers.

However, this group of sugarcane growers’ revenue was approximately 15% less than that of 2019 due to the Health Promotion Levy, also known as “sugar tax”.

These figures were highlighted at the recent SA Canegrowers’ 94th annual general meeting. Most of the R200 million was ploughed into a number of projects, including:

  • R138 million was distributed through a premium price for sugarcane supplied by black small-scale growers and land reform growers;
  • R20 million subsidised transport costs for black small-scale growers;
  • R10 million was spent on black youth and women’s programmes;
  • R5 million to augment the Sugar Industry Trust Fund for Education; and
  • R5 million on an agricultural training top-up for black growers via SASA’s Grower Development Account. 

Seedcane successes

SA Canegrowers also received R600 000 from Coca Cola’s Mintirho Foundation to establish seedcane plots for small-scale growers in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

“The project focused on supplying quality, clean and disease-free seedcane to growers and to improve cane varieties on their farms. The sale of seedcane grown on these plots brought in more than R1 million, which was reinvested to plant an additional 104 hectares of new seedcane,” the organisation said via a press release.

“This programme not only improved the quality of small-scale growers’ yields but also created employment opportunities for local communities who helped plant the new seedcane.”

While sugarcane production is growing across the continent, South Africa’s sugarcane value chain master plan has also been signed off. This is set to revive the waning industry and empower more local sugarcane farmers. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Funeral benefits programme

“The SA Canegrowers’ funeral benefit scheme also continued to provide financial support to families of participating farm workers who lost their loved ones over the past year.

“More than 12 000 small-scale growers were also signed up to the programme with their premiums being covered by SA Canegrowers, receiving insurance coverage worth more than R260 million.

“We are pleased that the scheme has been able to offer affordable products to black growers who had limited access to these kinds of services in the past” said vice-chairperson of SA Canegrowers Dipuo Ntuli.

Dedicated action ahead

“Although there’s still a long way to go, there are finally positive signs of recovery,” outgoing chairperson Rex Talmage said.

“We have seen a 14% growth in sugar sales resulting from reduced sugar imports and the off-take commitments from the social compact partners procuring more locally produced sugar, which is a promising glimmer of what is possible if we all work together to meet the challenges our industry continues to face like the sugar tax.

“SA Canegrowers is fully committed to making the Masterplan a success in order to ensure the long-term sustainability and profitability of the sugar industry as a whole. We will continue working with government and our sector partners towards its implementation.”

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Words and people: these have been Lucinda's only two passions from a very young age. As soon as she found out that journalism was the perfect marriage of the two, she knew it was what she had to be. She has worked in many spheres within journalism, including crime and human interest news, lifestyle, and tech for publications such as The Cape Argus, Fairlady Magazine, Cape Town Etc, Getaway Magazine and Popular Mechanics. In her spare time, she can be found with a book in hand or chatting to someone to find out what their story is.
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