Dynamics of Decline in Small-scale Sugarcane Production in South Africa: Evidence from Two 'Rural' Wards in the Umfolozi Region

"Using evidence from two rural wards in the Umfolozi region, this paper critically investigates the dynamics and constraints of small-scale sugarcane production under conditions of decline. The rapid decline in small-scale sugarcane production was historically underwritten by regulatory reforms that paired processes of enhanced representational inclusion with measures of rationalisation, resulting in deteriorating terms of exchange and the retraction of intensive interventions in production by sugar millers. Together with drought, these changes severely undermined the efficiency of capital services offered by local tractor-owning contractors and the productivity of small growers as a whole, while social grants have acted as a barrier to intensifying the exploitation of neighbours. The resultant cost-price squeeze has rendered cane an increasingly unattractive site of investment of labour and wages, and witnessed the severe decline or exit of most growers. For some, social grants have nonetheless provided a consumptive base from which to commit homestead labour without drawing down on cane proceeds, and hence enabled them to ‘hang in’ or marginally ‘creep-back’ into production. Only contractor-growers have managed to increase production, but this in turn is premised on the precarious cross-subsidization of their dual enterprises."