Partnering for Sweet Success

20% of our sugar cane is supplied by 800 small-scale growers in the Nkomazi region of Mpumalanga, so their trials and successes are ours too. The drought is a case in point…and thanks to our unique partnerships with these small-scale growers, the story is a happier one than you might expect.
Over the last decade, two joint venture services companies - Akwandze Agricultural Finance and TSGRO - have been established between RCL FOODS and the small-scale growers in Nkomazi to provide the latter with financial and agricultural/business support services that they wouldn't otherwise have access to.
In addition to TSGRO's other services (procurement and application of fertilizer and weedicide, cane production management, extension services and bookkeeping), they introduced a bulk water-supply service (BWS) in 2015. The purpose of the BWS is to repair, maintain and protect the infrastructure that provides water to the field edge - and some 630 individual growers and 7 cooperatives (representing another 456 farmers) signed up for the service. In the first half of 2016, these farmers reported only a 2.1% decline in their cane yield, compared to 9.1% for those not supported by the BWS - so it clearly made a difference!
"What's more, although small-scale growers' average yield declined by about 1 ton per hectare in the drought, their cane quality actually improved as a direct result of the BWS. This, along with higher sugar prices, meant that small-scale growers' income actually increased by almost R100 million in 2016," says TSGRO's CEO, Roger Armitage.
Not only is the irrigation infrastructure in a better state than before the drought, but TSGRO has put a lot of work into helping upgrade hardware and optimise systems in specific grower projects. They have also established seed cane nurseries around Nkomazi to ensure that quality seed is available for replanting. More replanting than normal will be necessary because of the drought, and growers will be assisted in this by means of loans at reduced interest rates, through Akwandze Agricultural Finance. In partnership with the Jobs Fund, Akwandze has also been directly involved in strengthening the farming community's resilience to drought through a five-year, R50 million project to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure and enable better irrigation management going forward.
With so much good coming out of our small-scale grower partnerships, we can be confident that they're the way to go - not only to recover from the drought, but for a bright future together!