Sugar cane sector lashed by threats, faces collapse

R14 billion in annual income and about 350 000 jobs are perilously close to being lost if the government fails to intervene on behalf of the sugar cane sector, the South African Cane Growers Association (Sacga) has warned.

Following Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address last week ,the association’s chairperson, Graeme Stainbank, has gone on the offensive after the president omitted to give any indication of how the government intends to stave off threats that sugar growers and processing companies are facing.

Apart from the drought, sugar farming in Kwa-Zulu Natal has been beset by manifold challenges such as last year’s dumping by Brazil of 500 000 tons of imported sugar.

Stanbank said Sacga have for some time been lobbying government to institute tariffs on sugar imports in a bid to stimulate and protect the local industry.

They claim that government has taken no action against cheap imports from cross-border countries.

Last year’s upward adjustment by the International Trade Administration Commission of the dollar-based reference price for sugar imports to SA, from $566 to $680, also fell significantly short of the $856 per tonne that industry had asked for.

In the meantime the Sugar Tax that came into play last year and persistent health-industry moves against its consumption have led to a drop in demand, further burdening an agricultural sub-sector that could collapse, Stainbank warned.

He stressed that it was time the government looked into alternative uses for sugar such as ethanol and cane-based packaging or, at the very least, stopped making general and vague statements about support for the agricultural sector without going into specifics.

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