Small and large scale farmers in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal, have welcomed the recently signed Sugar Industry Master Plan.
The farmers are looking forward to seeing their sugar cane farming businesses growing after having been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cabinet recently welcomed the plan signed by Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza and the sugar industry sector, last month.
The plan seeks to take urgent action to protect thousands of jobs, rural livelihoods and businesses, and at the same time create a bold new ambition for the future, which seeks to create diversified revenue streams for sugar producers, and create significant new job opportunities.
SAnews visited some farmers in the Pongola area to get the views of local farmers and farm employees which is mostly dominated by sugar cane farms mostly situated not far from rural areas.
Siphesihle Ndwandwe, 37, spoke about his passion for farming.
“Farming changed my life. If I wasn’t involved in farming, I wouldn’t have anything to do, I would be home doing nothing,” he said on Monday.
As a small-scale farmer, Ndwandwe who started farming in 2015, has employed one person on a full time basis while also employing six temporary staff members.
“All that I have is because of farming. I thank the government for the support,” he said.
Farmer and member of the South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA), Zitha Dlamini said the plan will assist small farmers to develop their businesses.
“This is going to ensure that our farmers are going to access markets and will also ensure that they create more job opportunities. We are happy that this is also going to ensure equal opportunities for farmers,” he said.
While farming has its challenges, Sibusiso Thabede has managed to employ four people in his community. Among the challenges he faces in farming is the high cost of water and electricity required to run his farm.
Thabede who started farming in 2009, is hopeful of a better future despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since I started farming, my life has changed for the better. We hope the Master Plan will assist us to pick up the pieces and be competitive again,” he said.
He also encouraged young people to get involved in farming.
“The youth should learn more about farming; it’s not only for old people,” he said.
Through his job at a sugarcane farm, employee Mfaniseni Ndabandaba is now able to provide for his family.
The South African sugar cane industry is currently concentrated in the rural areas of Kwazulu-Natal and southern Mpumalanga.
It is made up of an estimated 20 200 farmers of which approximately 19 300 are black farmers producing 24% of the 19 million tons of sugar cane produced each year and approximately 18 770 farmers are small-scale farmers producing 11% of total industry production.
In the period from January to September 2020, volumes of imported sugar declined by 10% versus the prior year, with deep-sea imports (i.e. imports from outside the continent) declining by 20%.