The Rise and Decline of Small-Scale Sugarcane Production in South Africa A Historical Perspective

"South Africa’s sugar industry has long been distinguished by its large number of small-scale sugarcane growers (SSGs) farming on ‘communal’ land and its peculiar, privately administered regulatory structure. In recent years, however, the number of small-scale growers has declined precipitously from a peak of around 50 000 in the early 2000s to fewer than 14 000 in 2011, a trend attributed by many to the impacts of drought. Over the same period, South Africa’s sugar milling companies have been investing heavily in countries to the north, heralding substantial shifts in patterns of national and corporate production. As Brazilian sugar imports begin to penetrate the domestic market, the industry’s organizing regulatory framework is also set to change, after more than 10 years of confidential negotiation. A re-appraisal of the structure of the industry, and in particular of the role of SSGs within it, is thus overdue."