- The SA Cane Growers' Association, ahead of SONA, called on government to continue actioning a master plan to save the industry.
- In his State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa indicated that he had heard this call.
- The local sugar industry has 22 949 growers – of which 21 581 are small-scale growers – who directly employ more than 65 000 people.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Thursday evening, President Cyril Ramaphosa encouraged South Africans to support the local sugar industry and assist in implementing the sugar master plan.
"The sugar master plan was signed during the lockdown, with a commitment from large users of sugar to procure at least 80% of their sugar needs from local growers," stated Ramaphosa in his SONA.
"Through the implementation of the plan, last year saw a rise in local production and a decline in imported sugar, creating stability for an industry which employs some 85 000 workers."
He said support for black small-scale farmers is being stepped up, with a large beverage producer committing to expand their procurement sharply.
This must have been music to the ears of the SA Cane Growers' Association, which - ahead of SONA - called on government to continue actioning its master plan.
In a statement earlier this week, the association said for South African sugarcane growers, the existing threats to the industry include cheap sugar imports and the Health Promotion Levy.
The association had written to Ramaphosa as well as Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel and Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza to offer support and assistance to government in order to fast-track action on its commitments under the Sugar Industry Masterplan.
The master plan was signed in November 2020 and has been designed to draw together all stakeholders throughout the value chain, including government, to revive the hard-hit sugar industry. According to the association, one of the most serious threats that faced the local sugar industry in the past was weak trade protection.
"In past years, an influx of cheap sugar imports has caused losses of over R2.2 billion. This breaks down to a loss of R4 000 to the local sugar industry for every tonne of cheap imported sugar that floods our shores," it states. The association has launched its Home Sweet Home campaign in December 2020, which encourages South Africans to opt for local sugar.
The aim is to try and restore an initial 150 000 tons of sugar demand to the local sugar industry in the first two years, with the goal of increasing this to 300 000 tons in year three.
Other undertakings under plan include retailers and wholesalers procuring 80% of their sugar locally, with this amount rising to 95% in the third year, and government promoting the use of local sugar by all its departments and state-owned entities.
"Government and other stakeholders in the sugar industry have no time to lose in bringing the masterplan's commitments to fruition. The sugar industry accounts for a significant portion of employment in the agricultural sector," states the association.
The industry has 22 949 growers – of which 21 581 are small-scale growers – who directly employ more than 65 000 workers and create 270 000 indirect jobs across the country. Many thousands of these jobs are in rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, where sugarcane growing forms the backbone of the local economies.
"If all South Africans commit to buying the quality local sugar that our nation's land and cane growers produce, the one million livelihoods that depend on the industry will be safeguarded," it said in a statement on Friday.
"We can announce today that our Home Sweet Home campaign has been well received by South African consumers. Our preliminary findings show that sales of local sugar have increased by 12% year on year. We are hopeful that the president's call will embed these early signs of shifted behaviour by committed South Africans."
The association adds that, to sustain these positive changes and increase jobs in industry, it is also important that government's commitments under the Sugar Master Plan are put into action.
Under Action Commitment One of the plan, government has undertaken to promote the use of local sugar by all its departments and state-owned entities. Other stakeholders, including retailers and wholesalers, have committed to procuring 80% of their sugar locally, with this amount rising to 95% in the third year.
* This article was updated with post-SONA comment.