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Sugarcane farmers report extensive damage, AgriSA calls for road repairs as a priority

A cane field in South Africa

Photo by Creamer Media

20th April 2022

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Sugarcane farming industry body South African Cane Growers (SA Canegrowers) says preliminary results from a survey of KwaZulu-Natal cane growers reveal extensive damage from the recent flooding to cane fields, farm infrastructure and access routes to deliver cane to mills.

By the afternoon of Tuesday, April 19, more than 300 growers had responded to the survey and reported that 2 516.65 ha of cane had extensive crop and root damage, therefore requiring the total replanting of these fields to bring them back into production.

This damage comes to an estimated R194.9-million.

Farm infrastructure to the value of R27.9-million has also been destroyed, bringing the total losses to R222.9-million, the association says.

“A number of local roads and bridges were also washed away, which are not only the main transport nodes to mills, but also the access routes for farm inputs and workers employed on these farms,” SA Canegrowers CEO Dr Thomas Funke points out.

This catastrophic damage comes just as many canegrowers had started recovering from the riots and arson attacks that took place in July last year, which saw 554 000 t of cane being burnt and R84-million in losses incurred.

“It is clear that this latest tragedy could be the final death knell for hundreds of canegrowers and the rural livelihoods they support. In particular, small-scale growers are most at risk of not recovering from losses of this magnitude,” he says.

SA Canegrowers has collated all this information into a report, which it sent to national government, following requests from the departments of Trade, Industry and Competition and Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

“We welcome President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that a National State of Disaster has been declared in order to ensure the mobilisation of more resources, capabilities and technical expertise to provide relief and rehabilitation to affected communities.

“It is vital that these plans include assistance for the sugar industry, which provides more than one-million livelihoods where they are desperately needed in rural communities,” Funke says.

SA Canegrowers has, therefore, requested urgent financial and infrastructure relief from government to all affected growers so they are able to replant their cane fields and sustain a cash flow while they rebuild their farms in order to be in production by the next harvest season.

The report also included a list of local roads and bridges that need to be prioritised for repairs so workers are able to access farms and growers are able to transport cane to mills.

“A table has also been compiled to assist with identifying the needs of each individual grower and broader mill regions in order to assist government to divert resources where these are needed most. This table will be continually updated, as new information is received from growers, and provided to government,” Funke says.

“SA Canegrowers remains committed to working closely with government to ensure critical relief is provided to growers severely impacted by the recent catastrophic events. With our industry continuing to face a number of challenges including the influx of cheap imports and the health promotion levy, we need to do all we can to assist these growers to rebuild so they continue to support the workers and communities who depend on them.”

Meanwhile, agricultural association Agri SA says it also welcomes the reclassification of the previously declared provincial disaster as a national disaster owing to the impact of severe weather events, which will help free up much-needed resources to help repair the extensive damage to infrastructure.

“Agri SA and its provincial affiliation Kwanalu and affected commodity groupings will assist government wherever they can, especially to help make sure the critically important Durban port is able to function again as soon as possible.

“Already backlogs have developed, and this is particularly serious for the export of perishable agricultural products, which need to be properly stored and transported,” Agri SA risk and disaster manager Andrea Campher says.

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, during a media briefing on April 19, said Durban harbour is fully functional from the perspective of Transnet National Ports Authority, with gradual improvements expected to take place where gaps in functionality occur.

Gordhan said a dredger was on its way from Cape Town to Durban to assist in clearing up the significant amount of debris that washed into the harbour from the harbour’s many tributaries.

There was, however, a backlog in the processing of containers at the port.

Further, Agri SA says the situation is very serious and is going to require urgent and focused action to ensure farmers are able to get their product to market.

“Government, therefore, needs to prioritise road repairs and access to a functioning port as top priorities to limit supply chain disruptions. If there are any unnecessary delays in this regard, then it will have a knock-on effect that could lead to job losses and possible shortages of agricultural products,” Campher warns.

“Agri SA will continue to support Kwanalu in its efforts to monitor and assess the situation and do everything possible to help mitigate the damage that has been experienced by the sector as a result of the catastrophic floods,” she says.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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