THE South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) is calling for urgent action to avert “a looming crisis of biblical proportions” from hitting small-scale farmers in the sugar industry.
Safda executive chairperson Siyabonga Madlala said this week the lack of milling capacity was squeezing farmers.
“With 12 weeks left to close the crushing season, we call for urgent action to compel sugar mills to act and protect small-scale farmers and not use sugar regulations against them.
“Without urgent action there will be an irreversible disaster for many small-scale farmers, many of whom have already suffered during the July civil unrest,” Madlala said.
Madlala warned at the end of this season there would likely be about 2 million tons of sugar cane that will not be crushed, which is more than what small-scale growers deliver per season. Safda said the looming crisis would not only affect individual growers, but also secondary beneficiaries like contractors, employees and their families. Madlala said with the country still reeling from the economic impact of Covid-19 and the recent unrest, it could ill-afford the looming calamity.
He said the sugar industry used to have 14 sugar mills, but recently two mills had been shut down in Port Shepstone and Darnall in KwaZulu-Natal.
“This has created a big problem of not having enough milling capacity to crush the sugar cane crop that farmers produce per season.
Sections 119 to 121 of the Sugar Industry Agreement, 2000 talks about rateable deliveries wherein a farmer gets an allocation of the quantity of sugar cane that they can deliver to the sugar mill during the season.
“The deliveries are broken down into daily, weekly and monthly allocations that make up the total seasonal allocation. The allocations are based on estimated sugar cane crops that each farmer will harvest in a given season. The Mill Group Boards manage these allocations,” said Madlala.
South African Sugar Millers Association (Sasma) chief executive Deane Rossler said the organisation is aware of the challenges faced in crushing the full sugar cane crop in the current season, in some cane supply areas.
Rossler said processing the crop has been exacerbated by the civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal which closed mills for between one and two weeks during the peak crushing season in July.
“The management of the cane supply and crushing of sugar cane in each local mill area is dealt with by the Mill Group Board, a body where both the millers and growers have
representation. These bodies will be making plans to deal with the challenges of crushing the crop for the current season,” said Rossler.
At the time of the riots in July, SA Canegrowers, which is focused on growing sugar cane and diverse production opportunities for cane growers through innovation, reported a running total of the potential damage to local canegrowers as R300 million if mills could not crush the more than 500000 tons of cane that was burnt in arson attacks. It said mills in KwaZulu-Natal had rejected 135 222 tons of damaged cane amounting to more than R84.5m.
“Almost a third of the cane rejected thus far, more 38000 tons, belongs to small-scale grows who are most at risk of not recovering from revenue losses of this magnitude.”
The majority of small-scale growers have no form of insurance.