While harvesting is in full swing and farmers report good rains across cane growing regions in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, the industry has tough challenges in the boardroom.

The Health Promotions Levy, or 20% tax on sugary drinks, was implemented on April 1 in the face of cheap sugar imports continuing to flood into South Africa from our neighbours in the SADC region as well as from abroad.

All this as Parliament begins the debate on the emotional issue of land expropriation without compensation which could result in a change to the Constitution and put a huge question mark on the future sustainability of the sugar industry.

Regardless, the R12 billion sugar industry employs thousands of people – ranging from folk with the most basic of skills to those who boast highly impressive qualifications – and remains the economic anchor for many of KwaZulu-Natal’s country towns and villages.

The industry continues to innovate while spending millions of rands on research and development in a bid to promote best land and crop practices while supporting the country’s economic and transformation agenda.

For example, one of the country’s mega-farmers, Charl Senekal, is now turning to cow and chicken manure as organic fertilisers which he says are not only hugely cost effective but are bringing the soil on his massive operation near Pongola back to pristine health.

Senekal is also extending his operations to include the development of rural land for the benefit of communities neighbouring his property.

The South African sugar industry has scores of social and community development driven projects that prioritise skills development, better education and the empowerment of women at all levels of the value chain.

In this Farm Focus 2018 edition – the fifth magazine published under the auspices of the independent publications company, Sugar Publications – we have a lot to say about the rise of women in the industry.

Featured are a young mother, Nonhlanhla Shabalala who, with the help of her father, has bought her own farm overlooking the Darnall mill, and also never-say-die Busi Ngidi, who has consolidated her farming operations and is now helping to revitalise fallow cane fields in her home area of Mfume.

Then we doff our caps to Mamongae Mahlare – the first woman appointed to the position of Managing Director at Illovo Sugar South Africa.

We believe these women are trailblazers, critical to the future prosperity of the industry.

– Gareth Wright, Editor Shukela Magazine

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