Sugarcane – along with maize, wheat, rice, sorghum and many forage crops – is a member of the grass family Poaceae, an economically important seed plant family.
Sugarcane is cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates in areas with a plentiful supply of water. Approximately 800mm per annum is needed for a successful crop. Lower rainfall than this leads to difficult times for the industry.
There is a vast global market for sugarcane derivatives.
- These are prevalent in the modern diet both as raw and refined sugar, syrups, specialised sugars by-products and co-products.
- Molasses is used in animal feed, baking and the making of ethanol and rum.
- Bagasse, used as a fuel for boilers and kilns; the production of paper, paperboard products, bioplastics, agricultural mulch and as a raw material for the production of chemicals. Uses of the dried filtercake include utilisation as an animal feed supplement, fertiliser and as a source of sugarcane wax.
International business environment
Sugarcane producers across the world are moving away from a sugar-only output to include energy (electricity and biofuels), and other biobased products (e.g. bioplastics, biochemicals).
- Top growers: Brazil, India, EU, Thailand, China (SA is in position 16) (USDA, 2022)
- Top exporters: Brazil, Thailand, India, Australia and Guatemala (USDA, 2022)
- Top importers: Indonesia, China, USA, Bangladesh and Algeria (USDA, 2022)
- World Association of Beet and Cane Growers (WABCG) www.wabcg.org
- Find the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s Sugar: World Markets and Trade reports at https://apps.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/circulars/sugar.pdf
- Find the sugar chapter in the annual Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)–Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Agricultural Outlook.
- Sugarcane is one of the crops from which bioplastic is made. The global bioplastics market size was valued at USD 5.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5% from 2021 to 2030 (Allied Market Research, 2021). Find this report at www.alliedmarketresearch.com/bioplastics-market
- The SADC Secretariat and German Development Corporation’s Profiling of the Regional Agro-Processing Value Chains in the SADC Region (March 2019) can be found at https://agbiz.co.za/uploads/AgbizNews19/190322_SADC%20Agro-Processing%20Draft%20Final%20Report.pdf. It included a look at sugar.
- Read the latest SADC Sugar Digest at https://shukela.co.za.
- Find out about the publication Good Management Practices for the Sugar Cane Industry at www.ifc.org.
- Find the Fairtrade page on sugar at www.fairtrade.net/product/sugar.
- Read about how WWF is involved with sugarcane at www.worldwildlife.org/industries/sugarcane
Local business environment
Sugarcane is grown in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, where it is a strategic crop. Deteriorating conditions motivated the development of the South African Sugar Master Plan (see “National strategy and government contact” heading).
The industry currently employs an estimated 65 000 people directly, and through upstream and downstream multipliers, supports a further 270 000 indirect jobs (Sugar Master Plan, 2020).
The South African sugar industry has lost 16.5% of its cane area since 2005. The area has been relatively stable at around 360 000 hectares since 2016, but it is projected that a further 46 000 hectares will be lost by 2030 (BFAP, 2021). This could translate into a loss of 4 900 permanent and 7 700 seasonal jobs. It can be argued that the permanent workers will be absorbed into new farming activities but the outlook for seasonal workers is more problematic (BFAP, 2021).
Pressure comes from distorted global prices; increasing volumes of low-priced tariff-free exports from Eswatini; and the Health Promotions Levy (the sugar tax). Each of these are expanded on in the Sugar Master Plan.
Farmers have been opting for alternative crops like macadamias, bananas, citrus and avocados. These are high-value, capital-intensive crops and so it is more than likely that hectares lost to sugarcane will be lost for a long time to come (BFAP, 2019).
The industry has identified four areas of diversification – cogeneration, biofuels, beneficiation of agricultural residues such as biogas and biobased products.
- Biofuels – implementation of greenfield and brownfield fuel ethanol projects in the SA sugar industry
- Cogeneration – operationalise sugarcane cogeneration independent power producers as part of the energy mix in South Africa
- Beneficiation of agricultural residues such as biogas – commercialisation of biogas plants on a range of biogas plants
- Biobased products – biobased niche products from sugarcane such as bioplastics and biochemical.
All four diversification areas aim to harness the full value of the sugarcane stalk producing sugarcane-based products which have already been manufactured in other parts of the African continent and the world.
- Find the “Sugar Master Plan” option at https://sasa.org.za. The document provides an overview of current conditions in the industry, and a roadmap for the way forward.
- The annual South African Sugar Industry Directory is an invaluable source of information, statistics and for contacts within this sector; find it at www.sasugarindustrydirectory.co.za.
- The annual Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) Baseline Agricultural Outlook includes a section which looks at sugarcane. Find the latest Baseline at www.bfap.co.za.
- The US Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) periodically covers the South African and eSwatini sugar industries. Find these reports on the Internet. Recent ones include “South African Sugar Industry Welcomes Report on the Economic Impact of the Health Promotion Levy” (2021, June) and the “Sugar Annual” (2021, April).
- Find the latest Sugar Market Value Chain Profile on the Directorate Marketing pages on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development website www.dalrrd.gov.za.
- Refer to the “Some articles” sub-heading further down this page.
For the newcomer
The South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI)’s extension service provides the essential link between SASRI researchers and farmers through consultation and feedback.
SASRI Mount Edgecombe
- Extension & Biosecurity Manager 031 508 7492 / 083 561 2781
rowan.stranack [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Manager: small scale and land reform growers 031 508 7491 082 654 3148 Thulani.masondo [at] sugar.org.za
Small scale Growers (SSG) and Land Reform Growers (LRG)
- Extension Specialist: Small-scale Growers Zululand South (SSG/LRG) 082 613 8819 Sifiso.hlela [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: Midlands and North Coast (SSG) 031 328 9301 / 082 655 0356 william.gillespie [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: South Coast (SSG) 039 975 1149 / 083 272 3400
bongiwe.chonco [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: Pongola (SSG) 034 413 1215 / 083 655 5012
Norman.mkhabela [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – South Coast
- Extension Specialist: Sezela 039 975 1377 / 082 655 0387
Joe.nkala [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: Umzimkulu 039 682 1822 / 082 653 3151
buhle.khomo [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – Midlands
- Extension Specialist: Midlands South 031 781 2001 / 082 654 3546
Paul.botha [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: Midlands North 033 503 1818 / 082 654 3549
David.wilkinson [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – North Coast
- Extension Specialist: Maidstone/Darnall 032 947 1410 / 082 655 0358
patrick.ngcobo [at] sugar.org.za
- Extension Specialist: North Coast 032 947 1410 / 082 653 3144
Adrean.naude [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – Zululand South
- Extension Specialist Amatikulu and Entumeni 035 337 1593 / 082 653 3147 gary.lagerwall [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – Zululand North
- Extension Specialist: Umfolozi 035 550 0106
- Extension Specialist: Felixton 035 772 5871 / 082 653 3150
Tshifhiwa.radzilani [at] sugar.org.za
Regional Extension – Irrigated North
- Extension Specialist: Pongola 034 413 2120
- Extension Specialist: Komatipoort 013 723 4177 / 083 655 5011
marius.adendorff [at] sugar.org.za
- Biosecurity Officer 013 790 0356 / 083 335 3846
trumpelmannk [at] sugar.org.za
The South African Cane Growers’ Association provides technical skills training for new and emerging cane growers, accounts and financial management workshops, regional economic advisors, a grower support service officer and access to a special VAT and diesel dispensation for small-scale growers.
The South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA) provides training, but also has fertiliser, logistics, diesel and farm management initiatives as well as grower support staff to benefit growers. Find contact details for agricultural managers, district co-ordinators and grower support officers at https://sa-fda.org.za.
The milling companies also provide extensive service in support of the cane-growing operations of small- medium- and large-scale black farmers.
National strategy and government contact
- Find the “Sugar Master Plan” option at https://sasa.org.za. in which all partners (the sugar industry, labour, government, retailers and wholesalers, and industrial sugar users) committed to a phased approach to turn this industry around.
- Sugarcane is an important crop for South Africa as it has both high-growth-potential AND is labour intensive (Sihlobo, 2018).
- Read about the Health Promotions Levy (the sugar tax) at www.sars.gov.za/customs-and-excise/excise/health-promotion-levy-on-sugary-beverages/.
Sugar and renewable energy
Globally, sugarcane industries have responded to the need for renewable energy, by diversifying from being producers of sugar to sugar and energy.
The biomass called bagasse, produced during the processing of sugarcane, can be used to generate steam and electricity. Sugar mills in South Africa already do this for their own energy needs. They have the capacity to inject significant amounts of surplus power into the national grid, which would make a significant contribution to green and renewable energy when this does become a priority for government.
- South African Sugar Association (SASA) www.sasa.org.za
- South African Cane Growers’ Association (CANEGROWERS) www.sacanegrowers.co.za
- South African Farmers Development Association represents small-scale and land reform farmers within the sugar industry. Visit http://sa-fda.org.za.
- South African Sugar Technologists Association (SASTA) www.sasta.co.za
- South African Sugar Industry Agronomists Association https://sasri.org.za/sasiaa
- National Bargaining Council for the Sugar Manufacturing and Refining Industry Tel: 031 508 7331/2
- Sugar Manufacturing and Refining Employers Association Tel: 031 508 7300
Also of relevance is Association of SA Sugar Importers (Asasi); Beverage Association of South Africa (BEVSA) (see www.bevsa.co.za); Ethanol Producers Association of Southern Africa (EPASA) (see www.epasa.org.za); and the South African Sugar Converters’ Association (Sasca).
Training and research
- AgriSETA www.agriseta.co.za Find details of the National Certificate: Sugar Industry Technical Maintenance, National Certificate: Sugar Manufacturing and Refining Technical Maintenance, National Certificate: Sugar Processing and National Certificate: Sugar Technology under “Skills Delivery”.
- South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI) https://sasri.org.za
- Shukela Training Centre (STC) www.sasa.org.za
- Sugar Milling Research Institute (SMRI) www.smri.org
Additional details to what is listed below are provided in the South African Sugar Industry Directory at www.sasugarindustrydirectory.co.za.
- Gledhow Tel: 032 437 4400
- Illovo Sugar Limited www.illovosugar.com
Eston Mill – 031 781 8300
Noodsberg Mill – 033 502 9500
Sezela Mill – 039 975 8000
Umzimkulu Mill – 039 682 4202
- Tongaat Hulett Sugar Limited www.huletts.co.za
Voermol Feeds –032 439 5856
Agricultural operations – 032 438 3500
Amatikulu Mill – 035 331 9000
Felixton Mill – 035 791 5000
Darnall Mill – 032 439 9111
Maidstone Mill – 032 439 5511
- RCL Foods Sugar & Milling www.rclfoods.com/sugar
Komati Mill – 013 723 4860
Malalane Mill – 013 791 1000
Pongola Mill – 034 413 8100
Cane Testing Services (CTS) Tel: 031 508 7145
- Regional Managers: (i) North: 031 508 7148 (ii) South: 031 508 7142
The Cane Testing Service (CTS) provides a specialist service under contract to individual Mill Group Boards to determine the quality of individual grower cane deliveries to the mill for cane payment purposes. See www.sasa.org.za for details of the branches.
Grocane Fire Insurance Co-op 1998 Limited Tel: 031 508 7161
WOMOBA Innovative Sustainability www.womoba.co.za Womoba is a subsidiary of the SA Canegrowers Association and is involved with developing sugarcane by-products like biogas, ethanol and juice.
Websites and publications
Visit the websites listed earlier on this page.
- The South African Sugar Industry Directory is an invaluable source of information, statistics and for contacts within this sector; find it at www.sasugarindustrydirectory.co.za. SASA has other publications available which describe in full the diverse aspects of the sugar industry.
- Books, technical guides, newsletters and manuals are available from the South African Sugarcane Research Institute (SASRI). Find these on their website, https://sasri.org.za.
- CANEGROWERS puts out a monthly newsletter, “The Cane Grower”.
- Grower notes on sugarcane are available on the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development website www.dalrrd.gov.za (look under “Resource centre”).
- Available from the ARC-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE) is the booklet “Agro-processing of Industrial Crops (chicory, coffee, sugar cane, tea)”. Visit www.arc.agric.za or call 012 842 4017.
- The International Finance Corporation (IFC)/Agbiz report (December 2019) on water efficiency in the agri-processing sector includes a look at sugarcane processing. Find it at https://agbiz.co.za/uploads/images/sponsors/191213_Agri-processing%20Sector%20in%20South%20Africa%2011.12.19%20Single%20pages.pdf
- Find the Nation in Conversation overview of the sugar industry (March 2017) on YouTube.
- Find the SA Farmers Development Association (SAFDA) presentation to parliament in 2017 at www.thedti.gov.za/parliament/2017/SAFDA.pdf.
- Find research done by the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) on sugar, including alternative uses of sugar. Go to www.namc.co.za.
- SA Canegrowers. 2022, April 20. “KZN floods: Cane growers’ losses estimated at R222.9 million”. Available at https://sacanegrowers.co.za/kzn-floods-canegrowers-losses-standing-at-r222-9-million
- Botha L. 2022, February 18. “Macadamia investment to boost sugar farmers” . Farmer’s Weekly, p. 24. Available at www.pressreader.com/south-africa/farmers-weekly-south-africa/20220218/281749862781104
- Majola D. 2021, October 21. “SA canegrowers welcome DTI’s R85m relief fund to recover from July unrest”. IOL. Available at https://ewn.co.za/2021/10/20/sa-cane-growers-welcome-dti-s-r85m-relief-fund-to-recover-from-july-unrest
- Reporter. 2021, October 14. “Cotton farming provides diversification options for South African canegrowers”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/cotton-farming-provides-diversification-options-for-south-african-canegrowers-2021-10-14/rep_id:4136
- Majola G. 2021, August 19. “‘Unrest has put thousands of rural jobs at risk’”. IOL. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/unrest-has-put-thousands-of-rural-jobs-at-risk-7e92c2c9-21de-4cec-b4de-3e513d9f86d5
- Burger S. 2021, June 3. “Report shows tax shrunk the sugar industry, says association” . Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/report-shows-tax-shrunk-the-sugar-industry-says-association-2021-06-03
- Ginindza B. 2021, May 25. “Sugarcane growers hoping to produce aviation fuel in future”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/energy/sugarcane-growers-hoping-to-produce-aviation-fuel-in-future-b5f3e50b-8791-43a9-bd41-2b8d958f8fb8
- Majola G. 2021, May 14. “Sugar sector is on track with its five-year transformation plan”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/sugar-sector-is-on-track-with-its-five-year-transformation-plan-35d6bd24-c359-41b1-8111-f5fe7adcc96d
- Slater D. 2021, March 15. “Sugar Master Plan contributing to industry’s growth – Patel”. Engineering News. Available at www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/sugar-master-plan-contributing-to-industrys-growth-patel-2021-03-15
- Sishubu S. 2021, February 5. “Biofuel production could help revive SA sugar industry”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/biofuel-production-could-help-revive-sa-sugar-industry/
- The NAMC TradeProbe 83 (November 2020) includes “Overview of trade in the sugar industry”.
- ANA Reporter. 2020, November 17. “SA canegrowers welcome signing of landmark sugar masterplan”. Business Report. Available at www.iol.co.za/business-report/economy/sa-canegrowers-welcome-signing-of-landmark-sugar-masterplan-c04c1c8e-5558-5c54-a364-307fb058f9a8
- Masiwa D. 2019, October 4. “Mzansi’s first biodegradable cup with agricultural roots”. Food for Mzansi. Available at www.foodformzansi.co.za/mzansis-first-biodegradable-cup-with-agricultural-roots/
- Parliamentary Communcation Services. 2019, September 5. “Committee hears that protectionist strategy for the sugar industry needs to be phased out”. Polity. Available at www.polity.org.za/article/committee-hears-that-protectionist-strategy-for-the-sugar-industry-needs-to-be-phased-out-2019-09-05
- 702. 2018, December 3. “SA company makes biodegradable sugar cane bottles to replace plastic”. 702. Avalable at www.702.co.za/articles/329366/sa-company-makes-biodegradable-sugar-cane-bottles-to-replace-plastic
- Phillips, L. 2018, February 7. “‘Sin tax’ for sugar will cause job losses – SASA”. Farmer’s Weekly. Available at www.farmersweekly.co.za/agri-news/south-africa/sin-tax-sugar-will-cause-job-losses-sasa
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