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Friday, July 19, 2024

Sugarcane value chain under scrutiny

Sugarcane value chain under scrutiny

Story by Gay Matambo

THE government has pledged to continue supporting the sugar production industry through continuous engagements with key stakeholders to address concerns in the sugarcane value chain.

Officials from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and players in the sugar production sector met in Triangle this Tuesday after touring Tongaat Hulett’s Triangle and Hippo Valley mills to find a lasting solution to challenges hampering sugar production.

One of the key concerns in the sector is the issue of sugar imports from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique which have depressed sales for more than 1000 sugarcane outgrowers who benefitted under the land reform programme.

The issues include cash flow for Zimbabwe’s sole sugarcane miller, Tongaat Hulett, which operates sugar mills at Triangle and Hippo Valley estates.

“One of the major things which has affected the industry is the Statutory Instrument 80. So far it has affected our sales to almost 24%. If we are to put that percentage into dollar terms, that’s a huge amount and we are experiencing challenges in terms of paying creditors and those who supply spares for the mill, we are experiencing challenges with even paying the farmers,” said Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe Chief Operations Manager, Mr Sylvester Mangani.

Delays in the milling of sugarcane and breaching of the milling quarter system by sugarcane farmers also took centre stage at the meeting.

“We were facing challenges with the miller in terms of milling cane. We are happy that the government has moved in to assist us,” said one of the farmers.

Another added, “Sugarcane is a sensitive crop such that once it is harvested, it has to be milled as soon as possible before the ERC content drops. Once the cane’s ERC content drops it means the farmer also incurs losses. That is why delays in the milling of our cane negatively affect production.”

“As farmers we were also adhering to the quarter system and haulage trucks carrying cane would then pile up at the mills creating a disastrous situation. The coming in of government will definitely make things better for both parties,” another farmer said.

With Tongaat Hullet Zimbabwe being one of the largest private sector employers in the country, the importance of a motivated labour force was cited as key in boosting the country’s sugar industry.

“If workers are demoralised, a lot is at stake hence issues to do with the welfare of workers need to be solved amicably,” said the Director of Provincial Coordination of Masvingo Province, Ms Rosemary Chingwe.

Deputy Minister of Industry and Commerce Honourable Roy Bhila said the government is working round the clock to ensure challenges threatening the viability of the local sugarcane value chain are addressed.

‘We came here through the invitation of the farmers who were saying their cane is not being milled. We have undertaken a move to establish what is happening on the ground and it is correct that there are long queues of haulage trucks at the gates of the mills. That challenge has been resolved, and the quarter system shall be adhered to. The issue of imports is also affecting the industry. The miller is saying there are tonnes of sugar in stock which is not being bought due to flooding of the market by sugar imports and we saw the sugar in their warehouses. We have taken note of that, and we will liaise with our line ministries to find a solution to that challenge,” he said.

In May this year, the government resolved variances between Tongaat Hulett Zimbabwe and sugarcane out growers as farmers expressed reservations over the unsustainable payment model being used by the miller.

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