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Farmers must diversify to survive tough times

SUGAR cane farmers should look at diversifying their crops in order to keep their heads above water. This is the advice given to them by Kuben Moodley, deputy director-general of Rural Development in KwaZulu-Natal.

Moodley, who is also the president of the South African Society for Agricultural Extension and a qualified agriculturist, says while he sympathises with fellow farmers, they need to look at becoming “agripreneurs” by planting other crops such as fruit and vegetables.

“Our farmers have to understand how to develop ‘agripreneurship’. If you look at ourhistory, all our farmers had sugar cane as the main crop but there were other crops like litchis, bananas, mandarins and mangoes.

They had that constant income from the alternate crops and, while sugar cane came every six months, they did not depend on sugar cane alone.”

The 60-year-old, who is also a fourth-generation sugar cane farmer, says he recently met an enterprising farmer in oThongathi, who had started Aquaponics, Moringa and black fly production for the co-generation of energy and animal seed.

“It’s encouraging to note that some farmers are thinking in that line. So when any industry or community hits rock-bottom and you have to start again, then the time has come to start preparing for another one. You cannot sit back and lament the depressing state of the sugar industry.” Moodley says while fighting one battle, farmers need to look at diversification.

“You have to look at the positives, like excellent climate, soil, natural resources, land, exceptional infrastructure and good government policles. We have to look at how we can harness all of this.”

Moodley, who says his heart goes out to farmers, has been farming in Hibberdene since 1988 and owns 100hectares of land.

“The issue with the sugar cane farm plight is the uncontrolled dumping of cheap sugar into the South African market and our porous borders that allow sugar to come into the country.

“This has caused the price of sugar in the South African industry to drop drastically to almost 18%.” He says wages, spiralling transportation costs and the cost of energy, VAT and the cost of increased farm security measures to keep farmers on their properties also play a role in their plight.

“The break-even point in production has gone into a negative field. Farmers are not making money. If you look at all the costs and what we get for the crops, there is no profit margin.”

Moodley believes an increase in subsidisation, further assistance in disaster management, risk mitigation for climate change and the encouragement of farmers in “agri-business” that adds value to niche crops would help them substantially.

“Sadly farming today, besides being a calling, it’s also a way of life for many. I asked a farmer what makes him stay in a farming area that is so forsaken and he said it was his dedication and love forthe land.”

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