Eswatini Daily News

Sugarcane farmers ‘rescued’ in the nick of time

By Bongiwe Zwane-Maseko

There is nothing more satisfying than a happy ending to a tough year. Sugarcane farmers in Mpumalanga have plenty to be thankful for after a major cash injection that will help over a thousand small-scale farmers get back on their feet.

Industry players are hoping a fertiliser boost by the government worth over R40 million will be enough to help struggling sugarcane farmers in the province.

This follows a special visit to the province by the national minister of agriculture, Thoko Didiza, together with the South African Farmers Development Association’s (SAFDA) chief executive officer, Dr Siyabonga
Madlala. During the visit, fertilisers and a cheque to the tune of R42.2 million were handed over to the Nkomazi sugarcane small-scale growers, which is about 1 400 farmers.

According to Madlala, the donation by the government could have not come at a better time for these sugarcane growers who are barely coping with the high operational costs involved in sugarcane production. This, he pointed out, is impacting their productivity, profit, and growth.

“We are very excited as farmers because we had no hope of how we would fertilise our seeds. With the tripling of the fertiliser prices, farmers could only afford half the [usual amount] of fertilisers they normally buy.

“This top-up means the yields will be better for the next harvesting. This donation will see an injection worth R 100 million into the economy of this area,” he said. In the past two years, the sugar industry took a couple of hard beatings brought on by floods, Covid-19, drought, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the sugar tax.

Farmers specifically, Madlala pointed out, have had to survive with the little that they had been operating with.

“By June, we realised that our farmers are not going to survive this, as SAFDA we came together and put a business plan to the department and we got the minister to hear us and here we are today,” Madlala said.

Bheki Mnisi, a farmer production support unit chairperson at the Komati and Malelane sugar mills, applauded the department and SAFDA for their collaboration in ensuring the needs of the farmers were prioritised.

“We have 1 432 farmers who are set to benefit from this fertiliser handover and we are grateful for this development. We are also happy that the sugarcane industry is being recognised and transformed. The fertiliser just came in at the right time when we as farmers were in the dark. Now we can go back to the farm,” he said.

In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Didiza expressed that her department’s intervention was because of the undesirable impact that the Russia-Ukraine war has had on the agricultural value chain and food security in the country.

“The prices of fertilisers have been too high and, as government, we decided that it was necessary to support smallholder farmers with fertilisers so that they can go back to the field.

“We work with district municipalities, the provincial department of agriculture, farmers’ associations, and commodity groups who work with farmers daily. Here in Nkomazi, we have a farmer production support unit which is part of the agri-parks programme where we support farmers with production inputs,” she said.

Didiza urged farmers to refrain from selling their fertilisers as this would be a step backwards in the strides made by the government to help struggling farmers and revive the agricultural sector.

The department said the support was mainly focused on sugarcane small-scale farmers in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. A visit to farmers in KZN is in the pipeline and over 10 000 sugarcane farmers are expected to benefit from a fertiliser donation worth R99 million.

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