In addition to providing direct employment in sugar farming and milling, sugar is an important component for other industries. The sugar industry is a secure and reliable domestic supplier to the food processing industry, which is the largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment, employing more than 200,000 people and accounting for 16% of GDP.
Outside of food processing, by-products of sugarcane are essential components of the chemical industry and are a major ingredient for everything from paints to pharmaceuticals. Sugar cane feedstock can be used to produce a variety of chemicals, such as a range of carboxylic acids and alcohols, as well as fine chemicals with value in the food, chemical, biomaterial and pharmaceutical industries.
Sugar by-products provide essential materials for the liquor industry, pharmaceutical industry, cosmetics and personal care products industry and in the production of solvents, spirits and thinners.
Many countries throughout southern Africa are coming to realize that sugarcane is potentially their most important economic resource. But unfortunately many countries, including South Africa, are missing many of the opportunities for employment and economic growth that the sugar industry presents. These opportunities will only be realized when these countries formulate the policy framework required to foster and encourage the many avenues for diversification of the sugar industry.