LETTER: We can build a future without breaking the sugar industry
The policy and regulatory framework must be created for new products to be developed
It is an oversimplification of the crisis at Tongaat Hulett for the business rescue practitioners to dwell on the structure of the industry as a cause for the present dilemma, and it is reductive to lay the blame at the feet of the South African Sugar Association, Sasa (Editor’s Note, June 22-28). It is no secret that the woes at Tongaat were largely caused by the fraudulent activities of executives, who now face criminal charges.
Most sugar-producing industries have some form of regulation in place. This is largely to protect the thousands of small-scale growers and to create an equitable industry environment. The current system was put in place to regulate the industry and to deal with challenges it faced, and Sasa has been a valuable platform to enable co-operation, for the benefit of growers and millers alike.
However, there is a recognition that current legislative mechanisms may no longer optimally serve the industry, and that it is time to modernise. This is why the industry has been exploring alternative products that can be produced from sugar cane to ensure survival of the sector and safeguard the 1-million livelihoods dependent on it.
This transition will take time, and with rural livelihoods on the line the industry is right to measure twice and cut once. Changing the legislation governing the sector is a delicate process.
The industry has the opportunity to diversify the sugar cane value chain into high-value and growth industries — sustainable aviation fuels, for example. It has made significant progress in this regard, but it is vital that the government begins to create the policy and regulatory framework within which these new products can be developed.
South Africa is falling behind not only the global leaders in sustainable aviation fuels but some of our Brics counterparts too. We must remedy this quickly if we are to gain a foothold in this nascent industry.
The business rescue practitioners at Tongaat Hulett are tasked with saving the entity, and that should be their focus. It is for the industry to determine its future and its structure, and to work with key partners, including the government, to do so.
Chair, SA Canegrowers
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