In the last ten years, the South African sugar industry has faced continuous hardship. As a key industry in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, urgent interventions are required to bring it back from the brink of collapse.
This is the view of Sifiso Mhlaba, national market executive for the South African Sugar Association. He is featured on this week’s Farmer’s Inside Track podcast, now available on most of the world’s leading podcast platforms.
Mhlaba says that in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, there are towns for which sugar contributes up to 90% of the local economy.
“Agriculture accounts for 4% of the KZN economy and of that 4%, about 2.6% is sugarcane. And in Mpumalanga, agriculture accounts for 3% of the Mpumalanga economy and just around half of that is sugarcane. This really points to the importance of the sugarcane industry in the two provincial economies.”
Mhlaba says that, since 2011, the sugar industry has been plagued by one challenge after the other, never quite recovering in time to weather the next challenge.
“In 2011/12 we had a drought and that resulted in total production decline. And again in 2016/17, there was a drought and a decline in total production. After a drought … there is an increase or recovery, increasing total production.
“But it always seems to coincide with other challenges. In 2013/14, as we were recovering from the drought and producing more, there was a huge inflow of sugar imports. That meant that, although we were producing even more, we were now selling less into the local market and exporting more.”
Exporting at a loss
Exporting sugar, Mhlaba explains, is bad for the industry because most of what we export, we export at a loss. According to the country’s Sugarcane Value Chain Master Plan, global sugar prices are distorted. This is because these prices are below South Africa’s cost of production.
The master plan, which was drafted last year in a bid to save the industry from total collapse, outlines the interventions that will be enacted to save the industry. Currently, the country only has 12 functional mills and sugarcane growers have reduced substantially.
“There were about 33 000 growers in the industry 10 years ago and now there are just over 20 000. This shows that the industry has been through quite a number of challenging times.”
Other podcast highlights
This week’s Farmer’s Inside Track also has other highlights:
- How to draw up a business plan: Certified business advisor and farmer Willem van Jaarsveld chats to us about the factors you need to consider when drafting a business plan.
- Agripreneurship: In this week’s Agri 101 segment, we chat to Kyle Oelofse whose chicken liver manufacturing company took six years to develop. After only one month, Figado Chicken Livers is on the national feeding scheme menu.
- Animal nutrition: Dr Francois van de Vyver, national technical manager at Voermol, is back to chat to us about improving nutritional deficiencies in your livestock.
- Book of the week: Our book of the week is Farming while black by Leah Penniman.
- Farmer’s tip of the week: Our tip this comes from Keneilwe Raphesu, a farmer from the North West.
How to listen to Farmer’s Inside Track
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