Parly steps up efforts to buoy sugar industry

Friday, February 15, 2019

The struggling sugar industry has come under scrutiny in Parliament, with the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry now engaging the industry to alleviate the plight of local sugarcane farmers.

In a statement issued on Thursday by committee chairperson Joanmariae Fubbs, the committee said challenges range from a lack of transformation and drought, to concerns around pricing, imports and the implications of the recent tax on sugary beverages.

“Many of these matters came to the fore when they were highlighted to the committee by the South African Development Farmers Association (Safda) in late 2017. The committee immediately prioritised the matter and went on an oversight visit to KwaZulu-Natal in January last year,” said Fubbs.

The committee in the statement lambasted the Democratic Alliance (DA) for issuing a media statement stating that it wrote to Fubbs requesting an urgent joint meeting with the committees of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and of Land Reform and Rural Development to discuss the imminent threat facing the sugar industry.

Fubbs said the committee has been engaging all industry role players since 2017 to understand the challenges this sector faces.

“All members of the committee were invited to attend, which provided valuable insight into the industry. However, both DA members that serve on the committee unfortunately did not attend.

“If they had, they would appreciate that this is a complex industry, which needs a long-term solution. Diversification might be a possible solution – bio-fuels and co-generation, as well. Some of these matters require legislative changes and the committee recognises this.”

The Department of Trade and Industry (dti) has commenced the legislative process to amend the Sugar Act, 1978 and its regulations.

“The office of the Speaker took cognisance of the committee’s oversight report and has received a response from the Minister indicating that engagements are ongoing with the relevant ministers about infrastructure requirements for roads and water, as well as on increased support for emerging black sugarcane farmers,” the statement read.  

Access to water is especially important in light of the prolonged drought in KwaZulu-Natal. The committee has requested a status report on these inter-departmental aspects to ensure a holistic approach, said the committee.

“The committee has been fortunate that the Director-General of DTI has been closely involved in this process, but it required the political decision of the committee to expedite the process.”

As a result of the committee’s engagement and intervention, major initiatives have been implemented relating to transformation, which have led to the reconfiguration of the industry body, and to measures that have adjusted the Sugar Tariff upwards. This has brought significant relief to all farmers, and alleviated the plight of small-scale farmers. Consequently, the tariff adjustments saved at least 30 000 jobs.

“The committee should be commended for this progressive intervention within a very short space of time. Our continued engagements and monitoring of all stakeholders in the sector led to this milestone,” said Fubbs.

She assured the sector that the plight of poor farmers has not been ignored. At a recent imbizo hosted by Safda, various government departments pledged support for these farmers and if the DA had been in attendance, they would be better informed of the progress made thus far, Fubbs said.

“We are well aware that much more needs to be done by the committee and the department and we urge Mr Dean Macpherson, who serves on the committee, to appreciate the work that has already been done as well as the time constraints we face and assure him that we will highlight this as a priority to our next Parliament.”

The committee will be dealing with issues relating to the sugar industry in its legacy report so that the next Parliament can continue to deal with the issues that were highlighted. –