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Midlands cane project seeds profits for small-scale growers

Nomsa Mkhize with SA Canegrowers’ Agriculture Business Advisor for the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands region, Nothando Buthelezi, in her field of N12 variety seedcane which will not only improve her yields but sustain the viability of her 0.8ha operation.

A SA Canegrowers’ small-scale grower development project in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is boosting the quality of cane grown by small-scale farmers in a bid to increase yields, ensure sustainability and improve profits for black growers.

SA’s sugarcane growing community is made up of 80% small-scale black growers – many of whom are women – living in deep rural areas where employment is scarce and alternative forms of income almost non-existent.

“More than half of SA Canegrowers’ 20 017 members are emerging small-scale black farmers and we recognise the foundational role these growers play in the sugar industry value chain. That is why we have continually prioritised the provision of programmes aimed at developing and supporting this sector,” said SA Canegrowers’ Association deputy chair Dipuo Ntuli.

Sustainable and profitable

The supply of top quality seedcane to small-scale growers was identified by the SA Canegrowers’ Local Grower Council in the Midlands as a paramount factor in keeping the sector’s farming operations sustainable and profitable, particularly in the face of the current crisis in the industry. The benefit of selling seedcane rather than sending cane to the mill is the grower achieves the full price per ton, eliminating the harvest and transport costs of delivering cane to the mill, which eat into farmers’ income.

The project was made possible by SA Canegrowers securing donations of the expensive seedcane from commercial farmers in neighbouring districts while volunteer small-scale growers covered the planting costs themselves. Delivery and planting started in November last year.

Planting a hectare of seedcane can cost up to R30 000, of which R8 000-R12 000 is spent on the supply and transport of seed. Having the seed donated and the transport costs paid for means that overheads were substantially reduced.

“About 80 tons of seedcane was donated and delivered by our commercial growers to seven beneficiaries in Sunduzwayo and Eskojeni in the Umbumbulu district in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands,” said SA Canegrowers’ Agriculture Business Advisor for the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands region, Nothando Buthelezi.

“This was an area-specific project because a needs analysis among small-scale growers in Umbumbulu revealed the reason for very low yields in the area was directly linked to older cultivars. Farmers were prevented from accessing newer varieties due to the high cost of the seedcane and the transport,” Buthelezi said.

Beneficiaries

One of the beneficiaries of the project is 78-year-old grandmother Nomsa Mkhize. She now has a stand of N12 variety of seedcane on her plot, which she says is more valuable than gold.

“I have grandchildren at university and at school. When my husband died in 1993, I took over the farming and the money we get from our crop has helped in the education of my children and grandchildren. “We live off this farm – we need this sugarcane,” she said.

Small-scale grower, Mduduzi Ndlovu proudly displays his stand of N54 variety seedcane which was donated to him by SA Canegrowers’ commercial farmers in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Pictures: Supplied

Small-scale grower Mduduzi Ndlovu has also benefited from the project. A field of N54 variety of seedcane, donated by commercial farmers in the area, is central to his plans to increase the extent of his 1.6ha sugarcane operation while improving the quality of the crop he delivers annually to the nearby Eston Illovo mill.

Celebrating women in agriculture

Pointing to a freshly hoed and fallow field, Ndlovu said that come November, he will use some of the seedcane to plant up a new field of land on his plot and will sell the remainder to his neighbours while also sending a quantity for processing once it has matured.

The programme was extensively supported by the Eston Illovo Sugar Mill, the provincial Department of Agriculture and the South African Sugar Research Institute. SA Canegrowers’ staff were also integrally involved during the planting process.

“We are confident that the Midlands seed cane development project will contribute towards the fundamental and necessary transformation of the sector and would like to thank all our partners who have helped make this project such an enormous success,” said Buthelezi. – Copy supplied by SA Canegrowers

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