8 July 2021

Five years after being thrown a lifeline by Tongaat Hulett and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs (EDTEA), 287 small-scale sugarcane growers on the KZN North Coast are reaping the benefits of Operation Sakhinzuzo.

The programme has created much-needed jobs, put food on the table, provided schooling for children and helped the purchase of farming equipment.

The R74 million six-year development programme jointly funded by EDTEA and Tongaat Hulett has seen 3 000 hectares of freehold and communal land come under sugarcane production to bolster economic activity in rural KZN. “

Tongaat Hulett joined EDTEA as a partner to provide both technical and financial support. EDTEA contributed R51,8 million and Tongaat Hulett put in R22,2 million.

Operation Sakhinzuzo has assisted individual small-scale growers, freehold growers and newly-formed cooperatives in rural communities and it has capitalised on economies of scale. Individual growers now own between five and 30 hectares under sugarcane.

Ravi Pillay, KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs welcomed the progress, saying Operation Sakhinzuzo was an opportunity to fuel growth and sustainability of sugarcane growers.

“The project has enabled all parties to create 2 470 seasonal jobs; promote education and training of 74 local youth and community members; and has enabled other small businesses associated with the sugar industry to expand and remain sustainable amid the pandemic,” he said.

A secondary objective of the programme has been poverty alleviation and the creation of job opportunities, such as cutting sugarcane, management of harvested fields and transportation of cane to the mill have been created.

The programme has had a positive spin-off on livelihoods in the local community. The health facilities and roads infrastructure have been improved and crime has been reduced in the targeted mill areas.

Nhlanhla Ntuli, Tongaat Hulett Project Leader, said Operation Sakhinzuzo which has helped small-scale businesses to evolve into medium-scale enterprises has provided employment to those living in four Tongaat Hulett milling areas – Maidstone, Darnall, Amatikulu and Felixton.

At the start of each planting season, approved growers are expected to contribute labour; EDTEA supplies fertiliser, lime and chemicals for weed control and Tongaat Hulett pays for the seed cane. Tongaat Hulett also provides training and mentorship support to the cooperative beneficiaries.

“One of the highlights of the programme is that it is very inclusive and encourages small-scale growers to plant seed cane and have it certified. Operation Sakhinzuzo pays the grower for seed cane to be used by the same grower to plant more area under cane, or sell seed cane to fellow growers,” said Ntuli.

The project has successfully created seasonal jobs and paid over R25 million in the form of wages in the targeted mill areas. A total of 169 500 tons of sugarcane has been delivered over the period of five years by the respective growers. The small-scale growers in communal areas delivered 47 percent of the total sugarcane tonnage followed by the freehold growers and the cooperatives at 37 percent and 16 percent respectively. R117 million of revenue has been generated to date by the 287 participating growers.

A further R13 million has been paid to the growers as part of the sugar industry Transformation Intervention programme.

Mkhokhiseni Xaba, a nine-hectare sugarcane grower who is part of Sukumani Cooperative at Makhathini Flats, said that the partnership has yielded positive results for small-scale growers.

“I have been part of Sakhinzuzo for the last three years. I have been able to purchase myself a vehicle through the sugarcane proceeds I have also been able to change the life of my children for the better,” said Xaba.

Marlen Pillay said after the drought in 2015, severe root damage was caused to the sugarcane ratoons, resulting in extremely low yields which made sugarcane farming unfeasible. Operation Sakhinzuzo had helped him to replant most of his crop.

“The assistance with fertiliser and chemicals cut down input costs. I have been able to purchase new machinery and implements. I have also been able to employ more staff permanently,” said Pillay.

Sandile Memela, a member of the youth-dominated Shapely Cooperative which has 40 hectares under sugarcane, said the co-op was awarded a tender to assist other small-scale growers and co-ops with various activities during the planting season.

“The contracting opportunity has increased the co-op members’ knowledge of the various activities associated with sugarcane development, including land preparation, harvesting and ratoon maintenance.

 “Most small-scale growers struggle to secure quality seed cane because it is expensive. Through Operation Sakhinzuzo, all the beneficiaries were assisted to access quality seed cane, and this is important to the growth and sustainability of the project,” said Memela. 

Bulelani Madwe, a local entrepreneur, was contracted to supply fertiliser to the farming community.

“My business has grown exponentially, and I have now opened a store in Jozini through Sakhinzuzo. I would like to thank EDTEA and Tongaat Hulett for giving me such an opportunity. I have grown as an entrepreneur on a number of business aspects including engaging with customers and managing logistics,” Madwe said.