SA bottling company boosts cane crops for small scale growers

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In the picture: Chairman of the Buffelspruit Zelpy Farm sugarcane grower cooperative, Peter Sibiya shows off the magnificent stand of N53 certified seedcane planted by SA Canegrowers using funding from the Coco-Cola Beverages Co Mintirho Foundation. (Image: Evans Mashego)

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South Africa’s small-scale cane farmers are now seeing the fruit of a R600 000 partnership between SA Canegrowers and the Coca-Cola Beverages Co Mintirho Foundation to provide high-quality seedcane to boost yields and crop quality.

The foundation was formed by the bottling company to promote the development of historically disadvantaged farmers and small suppliers who produce ingredients used in their various beverages.

This was agreed with the Competition Commission following the 2016 merger between Coca-Cola Bottlers in South Africa which resulted in the company becoming the largest bottler on the African continent. 

Between November 2019 and January 2020, the funding allowed SA Canegrowers to plant up 18ha of certified seedcane of which 4ha were planted in Mpumalanga and 14ha in KwaZulu-Natal.

SA Canegrowers Development Manager, Makhosazana Dlamini said the R600 000 including VAT grant had not only meant clean, affordable seedcane would now be available to small-scale growers, but the project had provided part-time jobs for local contractors and members in the various communities.

“The yields are amazing. From the 18ha we will harvest over 1 000 tons of certified seedcane that has been approved by the South Africa Sugar Research Institute and planted using best management practices. The cane will be sold to neighbouring growers at very low and subsidised prices to improve the quality of their sugarcane crop,” Dlamini said.

The provision of high quality seedcane was identified by SA Canegrowers as integral to the sustainability of small-scale sugarcane growers in the country.

However, certified seedcane is not only expensive, but transporting the cane and planting it according to best practice guidelines has been mostly out of reach for previously disadvantaged black growers.

SA Canegrowers’ Chairman, Rex Talmage said over half of the organisation’s 20 2017 members were small-scale black farmers living in mainly deep rural areas where employment opportunities were scarce.

“These farmers are the future of the sugar industry in South Africa. That is why we are prioritising programmes that focus on supporting and developing their crop,” he said.

Chairman and director of the Buffelspruit Zelpy Farm, Peter Sibiya said the 4ha planted up on the property was not only a game changer for their operation but would assist neighbouring small-scale growers as well. 

“We are really grateful for this support which was led by SA Canegrowers. The project has meant part time work for our local contractors and clean, affordable seedcane will be made available at a good price for all small-scale growers in our area,” Sibiya said.

The Buffelspruit Zelpy Farm is owned by 19 small-scale growers. Sibiya said the group wanted to express their gratitude to the Mintirho Foundation, SA Canegrowers, TSGro Farming Services and the South African Sugar Research Institute for their ongoing support.

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