Systemic approaches to improvement in sugarcane production and supply : Umfolozi and Felixton Mill areas.
Within the South African sugar industry, several possibilities for performance improvement exist. Present inefficiencies arise largely from the complexity of integrated sugarcane production and supply systems. Research has mainly concentrated on technical, hard aspects, such as mill and transport efficiency and sugarcane quality in an attempt to optimise these systems by optimising their parts. Soft issues, like communication, trust, and values have been neglected. This study considers sugarcane production and supply systems more holistically and places a particular focus on soft and leadership issues. Two systems methodologies, Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) and the Viable System Model (VSM) were applied to investigate the complexity of two large sugarcane production and supply systems in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in the Felixton and Umfolozi milling areas. These methodologies were combined with a qualitative approach which facilitated a thorough exploration of crucial soft and leadership issues. The outcome of the empirical work showed that a core issue challenging both milling areas and the entire sugar industry is the presence of fragmentation. Factors that contribute to fragmentation and suggestions for its handling are presented. SSM and VSM fostered an in-depth understanding of the studied system, yet their ability to suggest improvements was not confirmed. Since it is argued that this was largely impeded by the conditions of the study, the thesis overall supports the suitability of both methodologies in the sugar industry context and encourages their further use. The thesis emphasises the necessity to adopt a holistic approach and pay attention to soft issues when dealing with sugarcane production and supply systems. By implication, systemic approaches in general seem significant in this context. Neither SSM nor VSM were previously utilised to investigate a sugarcane production and supply system, hence this thesis makes a meaningful contribution to the existing body of SSM and VSM knowledge. It highlights the strengths and shortfalls of these systems methodologies in the applied context and presents derived methodological lessons. These lessons broaden the knowledge of employing SSM and VSM and support their application in practice.