Zimbabwe: Bitter Pill to Swallow for Zimbabwe’s Sugar Farmers

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Zimbabwe — SUGARCANE output from Zimbabwe’s out-grower farmers is projected to drop significantly this season because of expensive tillage costs and failure to secure inputs on time. Production by the farmers in Hippo Valley, Mkwasine and Triangle Limited is projected to drop by 7,5 percent to 1,118 million tonnes of raw sugarcane. More than 1,208 tonnes were produced last year.

Adelaide Chikunguru, the Tongaat Hulett Corporate Affairs and Communications Executive, confirmed the forecast decline. “There are many reasons behind the drop. You can only talk to the farmers’ associations,” said Chikunguru. She meanwhile added that the sugar cutting season was supposed to end on December 15 but due to the prevailing rainfall, it was now unclear when the season would end.

Dennis Masomere, the Mkwasine Sugarcane Farmers Association Chairman, also confirmed a reduction in output. “This is because of many challenges which we are facing,” he said. “We received inputs and herbicides late, we transport out cane with a train to the mills from here but the cane is carried after many days and it (cane sugar) loses weight during that process,” said Masomere. He said the solution would be for local farmers to have their own mill to cut the cost of transporting sugarcane to Hippo Valley or Triangle. “I also think the impending amendment of the Sugar Act of 1964 will also help us a lot,” Masomere added.

Professor Munashe Shoko of Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) also decried the legislation as giving an unfair advantage to the miller (Tongaat). He also said the haulage as well as tillage costs were disadvantageous to indigenous farmers. “The biggest issue affecting the farmers is the Sugar Act which gives 23 percent of the output to the miller,” Shoko said.

“Yes I know there are agronomic issues but let’s talk about that after the amendment of the Act, which is bad for farming.” He explained that to plough 5 hectares of cane, $1 million was required by the divisional of proceeds (DoP) at the ratio of 77:23. “The farmer is left with a gap which is difficult to close,” Shoko said. Shoko is leading the university’s program to train sugarcane farmers.

There are two sugar mills in Zimbabwe, the Hippo Valley Estates Ltd, and Triangle Sugar Estates Ltd. They have a combined sugar production capacity of about 640 000 metric tonnes and an installed milling capacity of 4,8 million metric tonnes of sugar cane per annum. Eighty-percent of the sugar cane crop is produced by Tongaat Hullet through Hippo Valley, Triangle, and Mwenezana Estates. out-grower farmers produce about 20 percent of the country’s sugar cane crop.

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