Factors that account for survivability of Black small-scale sugarcane growers in Ugu District Municipality.
Mkhungo, Mandlakhe Dickson.
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This research sought to determine survivability of Black Small-Scale Sugarcane Growers (BSSSGs) in Ugu District Municipality amid the severe decline in the sugarcane industry using two Sugarcane Growers Associations existing within the District Municipality namely, Qhubekani Farmers Association and Umnini-Mfume Farmers Sugarcane Farmers Association, designated by the researcher as streams A and B respectively, as a case study. The objectives of the study were to ascertain BSSSGs’ perception of the overall sugarcane industry, to ascertain BSSSGs’ perception of farm specific/micro-economic attributes that make them susceptible to failure, to ascertain whether they employ deliberate strategies to mitigate the causes and or effects of the decline and to ascertain BSSSGs’ perception of land tenure and farm size effects on their survivability. The sampling procedure employed in the study was a convenience sampling technique for the first two respondents from Streams A and B respectively, followed by a snowballing sample until the total target respondents of 15 are reached. The study revealed among other things that the majority of respondents were optimistic about the future of the industry and as such, were planning to add to the existing hectares of sugarcane planted. Notwithstanding evidence of the decline in profitability, which is advanced as the driver of the industry decline, most BSSSGs stated profit as the motive for the planned increase in hectares. In terms of adoption of agronomic practices, the majority of BSSSGs appeared to be implementing these measures and in some instances attributed these to the survival of their business or alternatively attributing these as underlying reasons for tangible improvements to farming operations e.g. improved yields and profitability. Regarding major changes that BSSSGs had introduced in the 10 years prior to the study, which is considered the most difficult period during which the sugarcane industry decline started to manifest, the research didn’t reveal any implementation of any groundbreaking changes by BSSSGs. On the causes for the industry decline, only a handful of farmers linked this to international competitiveness, while others indicated transport costs as one of the drivers of the decline. A significant number of respondents blamed the Recapitalization Program and its sponsors as having contributed to the decline. Furthermore, the RDP Housing Scheme and the Land Restitution Programme were also mentioned by farmers as contributing significantly to loss of productive cane land to competing uses for reasons discussed in detail in the study. In general, the key findings of the research highlighted two categories of BSSSGs, namely those that were fairly successful and belonged to a small percentage of a relatively high income bracket, and these BSSSGs’ farm operations tended to have relatively high capitalization and they generally exhibited better knowledge of farming, had forged relationships with White commercial farmers and in some instances had taken it upon themselves to assist other fellow BSSSGS, hence some of them were participating in the Recapitalization Program as contractors. Overall, these farmers were generally more aware of the industry situation and their survivability was judged to be at a high level. On the other extreme, the study elicited a group of farmers who were engaged in passive farming, which was an unintended consequence of the Recapitalization Program, which was exacerbated by contract farming. Contract farming and to a lesser degree passive farming were severely criticised by some respondents during the research and findings show that, the contrary to the original noble intentions of the program sponsors, this may be causing further discontentment among its intended recipients and also inadvertently promoted a culture of hand-outs. The fairly successful group as identified by the study is deemed by the researcher as more survivable compared to the other, and farmers constituting this group can serve as a model of successful farming, and more importantly that key lessons can be learned from this group and replicated to enhance survivability within the industry. Another important aspect elicited by the research is BSSSGs comprise mainly farmers who are beyond the age of 60 which is a cause for concern.