The South African sugar industry is one of the world’s leading cost-competitive producers of high quality sugar, ranking in the top 15 out of approximately 120 sugar producing countries worldwide.
It is a diverse industry, combining the agricultural activities of sugarcane cultivation with the manufacture of raw and refined sugar, syrups, specialised sugars by-products and co-products. In line with developments in the global sugar sector, it has the potential to be a producer of renewable energy, bio-fuels and bio-plastics.
Sugarcane is grown by approximately 22 949 registered sugarcane growers and sugar is manufactured by six milling companies with 14 sugar mills operating in the cane-growing regions. Sugarcane is a strategic crop for Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, comprising nearly 50% of field crop gross farming income across these two provinces where sugarcane is grown.
The industry produces an average of 2,3 million tons of sugar per season however the drought that gripped eastern and central South Africa considered to be the worse since 1992, has had an adverse impact on the sugar industry and seen the crop decline to 1,6 million tons of sugar in the 2015/2016 season. Despite this drop, there is sufficient sugar to satisfy the domestic market in South Africa. The previous season 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 closed at 2,115 million tons sugar.
Approximately 75% of the area of sugarcane harvested in South Africa is dryland (relying on rainfall) and 25% is irrigated, and as such the impact of drought is widespread. In addition to the dryland regions some irrigated areas have been affected due to water restrictions. Irrigation is found predominantly in Mpumalanga and in Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal. Rainfall is most needed from December to March when the crop is growing actively and evaporative demand is high. Approximately 800mm per annum is needed. Rainfall has been very low in most of the industry from November 2014 to date.
The Growers and the Millers have partnered together to ensure the efficiency and sustainability of the sugar industry.