Sugar Master Plan contributing to industry’s growth – Patel

15th March 2021 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel last week during a virtual briefing told farmers, millers, retailers, food producers and trade unions that the implementation of the Sugar Master Plan is resulting in signs of growth.

Detailing the progress in implementing the master plan, he said growth of 15% was experienced in local sugar sales, in an industry that was previously described as facing crisis conditions.

The Department of Trade, Industry and Competition slates the master plan as one of the levers of its “re-imagined industrial strategy” and is the result of a process of “extensive engagement amongst industry stakeholders and social partners, particularly small and large cane growers, millers and refiners, retailers, industrial users of sugar in production of sugar-derived products, as well as workers and government.”

Patel added that the sugar industry experienced increases in purchases of sugar by both the retail and industrial sectors, which included soft-drink manufacturers.  

However, despite these successes, he noted that there were challenges that need to be addressed speedily, to ensure the growth of the sugar industry. “The industry will need to improve its competitiveness and ability to successfully export to new markets, while providing opportunities for small-scale farmers.”

Patel also said the partnership with workers could be strengthened further, adding that work on new markets and industrial applications could provide a long-term growth drive for the sector. “In this context, the development of a biofuels industry is now being considered.”

He pointed to the recently-concluded agreement with Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa which committed to buying more sugar from small-scale farmers, as an example of what could be done to broaden the base of the sector.

Some of the key objectives of the Sugar Master Plan are to expand markets for sugar consumption (including through exports and new industrial uses for sugar), job retention and employment growth, transformation, small scale growers support, crop and value chain diversification, restoring local market and offtake commitment, as well as industry restructuring.

Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza, who is also a co-chairperson of the committee, emphasised the need for transformation in this sector. “In our endeavour to ensure growth, we need to ensure that the sector is inclusive in all critical areas of the value chain.”

Therefore, she said that the department must ensure it opens opportunities for more black farmers and women. “Critically, we need to not only open space for women in the production processes, but in leadership as well.”

As part of the Sugar Master Plan, industrial users and retailers have agreed to minimum off-take of sugar for a period of three years; with at least 80% of sugar consumption to come from local sugar industry and increasing to 95% by 2023.

During this period, the sugar industry has agreed to price restraint, and to begin a process of managed restructuring for the industry to help diversify revenue sources.

Other key developments include the gazetting of the Biofuels Regulatory Framework and Feedstock Protocol in 2020; as well as the amendment of the Sugar Act and Regulations, to effect incorporation of small scale sugarcane growers in the governance of the South African Sugar Association. It also includes the gazetting of an exemption to enable coordination by the sugar industry a restructuring to rationalise the industry production.