Sources and management of risk in large-scale sugarcane farming in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
The South African (SA) sugar industry supports approximately 50,940 small and large scale producers who collectively produce 22 million tons of sugarcane seasonally, on average. SA farmers face many challenges that lead to an uncertain decision making environment. Despite a general consensus among agricultural economists that risk constitutes a prevalent feature of the production and marketing environment, various authors have recently stated that risk-related research has failed to provide a convincing argument that risk matters in farmers' decisions. The various shortcomings of previous research have been identified and recommendations for the future proposed. Recommendations include that the focus of future risk research should be on holistic risk management. This study firstly identified the perceived importance of 14 separate sources of risk for a sample of 76 large-scale commercial sugarcane farmers in KwaZulu-Natal. Once a sufficient understanding of the risk perceptions of respondents had been attained, their use of 12 risk-related management strategies was determined. Principal components analysis (PCA) was used to investigate how individual management instruments are grouped together by respondents into choice brackets in order to make use of complementary and substitution effects. The study then proposed and demonstrated a technique that may be used in future research to isolate the effects of risk on individual risk-related management responses by modelling the management strategies contained within individual choice brackets with two-stage least squares regression analysis (2SLS). The most important risk sources were found to be the threats posed by land reform, minimum wage legislation and the variability of the sugar price, in that order. PCA identified seven risk dimensions, collectively explaining 78% of the variance in all 14 risk sources considered. These dimensions were: the "Crop Gross Income Index", "Macroeconomic and Political Index", "Legislation Index", "Labour and Inputs Index", "Human Capital and Credit Access Index", "Management Index" and the "Water Rights Index". Respondents were also asked questions regarding risk-related management strategies, including diversification of on-farm enterprises, investments and management time. PCA identified six management response brackets, collectively explaining 77% of the variance in the 12 responses considered. These response indexes were: the "Mechanisation and Management Bracket", "Enterprise and Time Diversification Bracket", "Insurance and Credit Reserve Bracket", "Geographic and Investment Diversification Bracket", "Land Trade Bracket" and the "Labour Bracket". Lastly, the study proposed a methodology for investigating the role of individuals' risk preferences in decision making. The recommended technique involves the simultaneous modelling of the major risk-related management strategies within each management response bracket, using 2SLS. A measure of risk preference was included in the 2SLS analysis to establish the influence of risk on decision making. By applying this methodology to the data obtained in this study, respondents were shown to be taking advantage of various complementary and substitution effects that exist between management responses. This was evident from the PCA and confirmed for the first previously identified management response bracket using 2SLS regression analysis. Risk attitude was shown to be a significant determinant of management decisions regarding the extent to which back-up management is kept in reserve. Important policy recommendations stemming from this study include that government review restrictive labour legislation and decrease the uncertainty surrounding new land redistribution legislation. Farmers need to make better use of available information by considering the effects of any single management decision on separate decisions, enabling them to take further advantage of substitution and complementary effects that may exist between management strategies previously considered in separate decision brackets. The fact that mechanisation and labour use occur in separate risk-related management response brackets in this study is an example of one such substitution effect that farmers do not seem to be utilising in terms of their management decision making. Future research using time series data is important in order to identify how risk perceptions and management portfolios change over time. Also, further research using the methodology proposed in this study may prove to be a useful means of more adequately addressing the question "Does risk matter in farmers' decisions?"