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HomeFarmingSaving SA’s sugar trade (and the million livelihoods that depend upon it)

Saving SA’s sugar trade (and the million livelihoods that depend upon it)


The South African Sugar Affiliation and the Industrial Improvement Company are working collectively to seek out different makes use of for sugar cane. Photograph: Susan Marais

Glucose is usually the primary painkiller given to newborns, however how ought to South Africa’s critically sick sugar trade be handled?

In twenty years, the nation’s annual sugar manufacturing has shrunk by almost 25%, from 2,75 million to 2,1 million tons. Over the identical interval, now we have misplaced virtually 60% of our sugar cane farmers, and different sugar trade jobs are estimated to have declined by 45%.

As in the remainder of the world, well being issues and trendy life are resulting in stagnation in sugar demand. Demand for sugar within the Southern African Customs Union has dropped from 1,65 million tons to 1,25 million tons a 12 months, forcing South Africa to extend its exports to the worldwide market, the place costs are beneath the native price of manufacturing. Given the rise in exports, the trade now has to soak up losses of roughly R2 billion per 12 months.

The tempo of decay, furthermore, is accelerating. In 2020, two native sugar mills closed inside weeks of one another, and the sector is bleeding jobs.

That is the truth that Trix Trikam, government director of the South African Sugar Affiliation (SASA), and the remainder of the sugar trade, face every day.

The scenario is pushed by three major elements:

  • Distorted international costs
    These costs, that are beneath South Africa’s price of manufacturing, are pushed by gross sales of surpluses from varied markets, significantly India, the place surplus manufacturing and costs are a perform of export incentives and in depth subsidy programmes.
  • Eswatini’s aggressive benefit
    Eswatini misplaced its preferential EU export quotas in September 2017. Subsequently, the tariff-free entry to the South African market and the relative price benefit that producers of that nation have loved over their South African rivals have enabled them to cost their sugar beneath that of native producers and thus take important share. In keeping with the US Division of Agriculture, Eswatini exported 331 273t of sugar to South Africa within the 2020/21 advertising season.
  • The ‘sugar tax’
    Authorities launched the Well being Promotion Levy (HPL), a tax on sugary drinks, in April 2018. “Within the first 12 months that the sugar tax was applied, 250 000t of gross sales to the beverage sector had been misplaced, with the [sugar] trade experiencing a lack of no less than R1,2 billion in income,” says Trikam. A complete of 9 000 farmers and farmworkers misplaced their jobs in that 12 months, based on Sifiso Mhlaba, SASA’s nationwide market government. Concurrently, 558 jobs had been misplaced within the sugar-processing trade, which incorporates milling and refining.

“The most recent figures counsel that South Africa has misplaced about 16 000 jobs in complete for the reason that HPL was launched,” Mhlaba instructed a gaggle of journalists throughout a current SASA media tour*.

To make issues even worse, the trade was hit arduous by the civil unrest that befell earlier this 12 months in KwaZulu-Natal. Throughout that week, based on Trikam, the halt in manufacturing at 10 mills price the trade R100 million. As well as, 2 580t of sugar had been stolen when two warehouses had been looted, and over 500 000ha of sugar cane had been destroyed by arsonists.

A worldwide problem
Mhlaba explains that the HPL is however one a part of the trade’s cluster headache. “The complete world sugar market is distorted to the purpose the place costs don’t mirror the manufacturing price of sugar.”

Because of this, provides Trikam, the US$680/t (about R10 400/t) tariff paid on exported sugar has proved inadequate to discourage different international locations from dumping their product on the South African market.

In 2020, South Africa exported 800 000t of sugar at a loss. The one export capable of appeal to a price near that of the native market was the 23 000t of sugar exported to the US duty-free, based on Geran Ranganthan, export supervisor at SASA.

The prerequisite for deregulation is a free market, he stresses, however that is one thing that the worldwide cane trade positively will not be; moderately, it’s rife with authorities interference.

“The worldwide sugar export market is a dumping market. Basically, each nation exporting sugar is doing so at a loss, as a result of producers can earn extra in their very own nation than they’d on the worldwide market.”

In the course of the earlier season (April 2020 to March 2021), the common international value of exported sugar was between US$200/t and US$300/t (round R3 050/t to R4 500/t), based on Ranganthan. This was lower than any nation’s sugar producers had been capable of get hold of in their very own nation. Nonetheless, in India, for instance, the federal government paid sugar producers an export subsidy of $120/t (R1 830/t).

“This levelled the taking part in area just for Indian producers, as a result of they had been abruptly capable of promote sugar globally at across the identical value they acquired domestically.”

On the demand aspect, he provides, there was a normal decline worldwide this season, as China and different large shoppers within the Far East stockpiled sugar when the costs had been low.
The elemental dynamics of the trade are additionally altering, with shoppers changing into extra health-conscious and thus limiting their sugar consumption.

This has led international leaders corresponding to Brazil and India to develop their bioethanol industries, as it’s comparatively straightforward to change between sugar destined for human consumption and sugar for gasoline manufacturing.

Butterfly impact
An apathetic angle in direction of the sugar trade’s scenario will not be an possibility, emphasises Trikam, “as a result of one million rural South Africans are depending on it for his or her livelihoods”. He provides that the trade immediately employs 65 000 folks, has 21 776 sugar cane growers on its register, and not directly employs 270 000 folks.

The sugar cane trade’s annual turnover is R18 billion. Though it contributes solely 0,84% of South Africa’s complete GDP and 6% of the nation’s complete agricultural output, the sector is indispensable to the economies of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

“Sugar cane is the most important contributor to the agricultural GDP in KwaZulu-Natal (44% in 2016), and the second-largest in Mpumalanga (40% in the identical 12 months),” explains Mhlaba.

Trikam warns that if the trade had been to fail, “quite a few South African cities and rural villages would crumble, as they’re both partly or solely depending on the sugar trade for his or her survival”. Even Durban would endure.

So, why not merely decontrol the trade? In Trikam’s opinion, this is able to be a catastrophe: “There could be those that consider that deregulation will result in the sugar value coming down, however that’s nonsense. Jobs shall be misplaced if the sugar cane trade is deregulated. It is going to have an enormous socio-economic impression.”

In his opinion, authorities additionally recognises that deregulation is ill-advised.

New methods to save lots of the sector
In essence, South Africa’s sugar trade is backed right into a nook. Deregulation would imply its derailment, so authorities assist is required. And that is the place the Sugarcane Worth Chain Grasp Plan comes into play.

“The trade is at the moment within the ICU and we’re attempting to stabilise its decline earlier than we transfer it to a normal ward the place we are able to start rising it once more,” says Trikam.

The longer term will see the trade face unmanaged decline, managed shrinkage, or restructuring and diversification with a view to develop. The final of those is probably the most interesting to all events concerned, says Trikam.

“The trade has fashioned private and non-private partnerships with a view to restructure itself and discover different usages for sugar.”

Mhlaba says that authorities and the non-public sector have additionally dedicated themselves to advocating for South African sugar over imported merchandise, and this matter has been given the inexperienced mild by competitors authorities.

“The 2020/21 manufacturing 12 months was the primary full season of the grasp plan,” he says.

“Though there’s a little bit of debate across the impression of COVID-19, we are able to already see that native sugar gross sales have grown. Between 2019 and 2021, there was a 40% improve in native gross sales on a retail degree, and direct gross sales [to the public] had been up by 32%.”

SASA has additionally seen development from the commercial market, the place sectors purchase in sugar to provide different merchandise corresponding to delicate drinks.

With regard to sugar taxation, authorities has promised the trade that it’ll preserve the HPL fixed for the following three years. The HPL is at the moment mounted at 2,1c/g of sugar content material that exceeds 4g/100mℓ. The primary 4g/100mℓ should not levied.

Within the meantime, trade specialists are in frequent dialogue with the Industrial Improvement Company to seek out viable different makes use of for sugar cane. These recognized to this point are:

  • Bioethanol for gasoline mixing (topic to a viable financial mannequin);
  • Biojet gasoline;
  • Potable, industrial and pharmaceutical-grade bioethanol;
  • Biomass/co-generated electrical energy;
  • Biogas;
  • No-and low-kilojoule sweeteners; and
  • Specialty chemical compounds and bio-based polymers to be used in varied sectors, corresponding to plastics, packaging, motor manufacturing and textiles.

E-mail the South African Sugar Affiliation at [email protected], or go to sasa.org.za.

*All prices for the media tour had been paid for by SASA.



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