Conflict resolution averts potential sugar industry crisis

An urgently convened mediation meeting has reportedly ended hostilities between two key sugar industry entities.

By Lloyd Phillips

The confrontational approach during last week’s public conflict over funding allocations for transformation in the primary sugarcane chain could have precipitated a crisis in the sugar industry. But a hastily called and reportedly constructive meeting between key role players ended the impasse.

This is according to South African Sugar Association (Sasa) independent chairperson Fay Mukaddam. She said the urgent meeting saw the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) and the South Africa Canegrowers Association (SA Canegrowers) bury the hatchet. The associations represent the interests of about 22 000 registered sugarcane growers.

Sasa, Safda, SA Canegrowers and the South African Sugar Millers’ Association have reportedly agreed on the allocation of R238,9 million budgeted for transformation during the 2024/25 sugarcane milling season.

African Farming reported that Safda held peaceful protests outside district offices of SA Canegrowers in the sugarcane-growing areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. Safda accused SA Canegrowers of being racist for allegedly attempting to reduce the allocation for premium price payments to mainly black small-scale sugarcane growers. SA Canegrowers rejected Safda’s allegations against it.

“There is now complete alignment in terms of transformation funding,” said Mukaddam. “Furthermore, industry leaders are now committed to working together to advance the interests of the sector, and to ensure that the main focus is on the ‘Reimagined Cane Industry Strategy’.

“We have … agreed that, going forward, any disagreements emanating from divergence of views and positions, which is normal and bound to happen from time to time, need to be better handled.”

Safda’s executive chairperson, Dr Siyabonga Madlala, said he was relieved that transformation funding to small-scale sugarcane growers will continue during the 2024/25 season. He singled out SA Canegrowers’ chairperson Higgins Mdluli “for facilitating with his side on this progressive outcome”.

Madlala added: “The agreement reached … means Sasa will go ahead and finalise the delayed disbursements for R238,9 million set aside for the current season while allowing industry leaders time to engage in strategic discussions about future transformation initiatives.

“This is a significant and progressive step forward as it demonstrates commitment of the industry towards the sustainability of the farmers, and Safda thanks the collaborative efforts that made it possible.”

Mdluli said SA Canegrowers “believes that transformation funds should reach small-scale growers in a fair and accountable manner, and supports the agreement brokered by the industry associations”.

He reiterated that “SA Canegrowers firmly rejects the accusations of racism and fronting” that Safda previously made against it.

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