Sugar producer Tongaat Hulett is partnering with the South African Farmers Development Association, and the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to establish a sugarcane rail transport system, in KwaZulu-Natal, between Makhathini cane growers in northern Zululand and Tongaat Hulett’s Felixton Sugar Mill near Empangeni.
Tongaat Hulett has assisted in drafting the business plan to raise about R30-million in funding for the development of a road-truck-to-rail-wagon spiller facility in the Mkuze area, about 50 km away from the Makhathini flats, explains Tongaat Hulett sugar operations MD Simon Harvey.
“We are also a member of the project steering committee, which engages fortnightly with the other project members,” Harvey says.
The other project members are State-owned freight rail company Transnet, the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, bulk transport and logistics company Sentrans, the Jozini local municipality and the uMkhanyakude district municipality, as well as local traditional leaders.
Harvey explains that the project will result in a reduction of up to 50% in transportation costs for about 2 000 small-scale Makhathini cane growers, who collectively produce about 150 000 t/y of sugar cane.
“Instead of the cane growers transporting the sugarcane 210 km from Makhathini to Felixton by road at higher costs, they will now enjoy the benefits of lower costs because they can transport their sugarcane by rail,” he says, adding that using rail rather than road reduces sugarcane truck traffic.
Sugarcane farming in the Makhathini area contributes more than R100-million in earnings to the community each year.
“Continued support of this rural community will sustain the livelihoods of the cane growers and their community,” Harvey notes.
The rail link is expected to be operational by March next year.