Enhancing the contribution of small-scale growers in the sugar industry.
Sokhela, Mbuyiselwa Patrick.
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In the South African Sugar Industry, small-scale sugar cane growers outnumber large-scale growers by more than 10:1. They farm approximately 33% of the total area planted to sugar cane, but produce approximately 10% of sugarcane reaching the mills. Special institutional and support services have been developed to promote the interests of small-scale growers. This study assessed the effectiveness of small-scale grower development as perceived by the Mill Cane Committees (MCCs) who represent the Black small-scale grower organisations. The study focussed on the MCCs. Information from members of these committees was gathered by way of questionnaires, group discussions and key informant interviews with support services representatives. Findings were contextualised in an historical perspective which indicated social, economic and political marginalisation, which has had profound consequences. Some of the more important findings were: 1. Small-scale growers were neglected, marginalised and isolated in the Sugar Industry until 1973, and were excluded from using support services available to other growers until 1983. 2. The organisational structures of small-scale growers are ineffective. 3. Small-scale growers had a low level of trust in the support services offered by the Sugar Industry to support their operations. 4. Interaction between the Mill Cane Committees, the local farmers' associations, the local grower councils, and service providers, mainly small-scale cane contractors and extension services, were considered poor. 5. Support services were not directed by small-scale growers' needs. 6. Training programmes, whilst beneficial to small-scale growers, were shown to be too technical and narrow. They concentrated too strongly on elements of sugar cane production and not sufficiently on the people and their operations. 7. Small-scale growers perceived cooperatives as a means of empowerment. Without significant increase in profitability (better sugar cane and more of it), this was shown to be questionable as cooperatives are unlikely to be self sustaining. 8. Small-scale growers did not understand the interrelationships between the aims of the Sugar Industry and their own operations. The mills aim to make profits from sugar cane and the South African Cane Growers' Association wishes to maintain a good political image to protect import tariffs, whereas small-scale growers want more emphasis on support systems and community development. Small-scale growers must realize that the Sugar Industry is not responsible for providing improved education and training and support services neither for sugar production nor for activities outside of the Sugar Industry. The Sugar Industry may choose to assist small-scale growers if it believes that by doing so it will increase its own profitability and improve its political image. Small-scale growers should control their destiny and be committed to self management of small-scale grower development in the long term. This may be achieved by developing effective organisational structures, proper interaction with support service providers and less dependency on the Sugar Industry. The findings of this research are considered to be relevant to most if not all developing countries, because sugar cane production requires a mill, the mill requires assured sugar cane supply; this is most efficiently supported by estates and large-scale growers. Small-scale growers remain a convenient "top up" when sugar cane is in short supply and an inconvenient and expensive burden when sugar cane is not required.