Janet Edmonds, the fulltime co-ordinator for the Midlands Sustainable Sugar Supply Chain Collaboration, with the framed Bonsucro Inspire Award.

A strong conservation ethic and a vision for a future where sugarcane growers worked in concert with the environment and their neighbouring communities, has seen one of South Africa’s most sustainable farming models, SUSFARMS®, land international recognition.

SUSFARMS®, which was founded by timber and sugarcane growers in KwaZulu-Natal’s Noodsberg district in 1998, was runner-up in this year’s global Bonsucro Inspire Awards held in Managua Nicaragua during the Bonsucro Week 2018.

The accolade is awarded to an “organisation, partnership or individual in recognition of their exemplary and transformative contributions to the sustainable sugarcane sector”.

Brazil’s Association of Sugarcane Suppliers from Guariba in Brazil were the overall winners with their Top Cane Project aimed at building “gradual and continuous improvement processes for the better management of farms”.

Noodsberg sugarcane grower and conservation activist, Ant Edmonds, who is also a co-founder of SUSFARMS® and sits on the Bonsucro sub-committee dedicated to driving ethical production of the commodity across the globe, said the award was particularly significant for the South African programme, not only because of the value of the recognition, but because it gave impetus to the immense work that had already been done.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception that SUSFARMS® is applicable only to KZN Midlands farmers, because it was developed here. But it is a values-driven programme that can be applied across the agricultural sector, and in particular on all commercial and smallscale sugarcane farms,” Edmonds said.

SUSFARMS® started out when the Noodsberg Canegrowers’ Association decided in 1998 to develop conservation management guidelines for the district.

“They realised the need to improve the environmental standards on their sugarcane and timber farms. So, they started with the development of an Environmental Management System. That was completed in 2002. In 2004 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) then partnered with the growers by supporting a more practical system which resulted in SuSFarMs®.

“In 2012 the South African Sugar Research Institute (SASRI) initiated a legislation update and simplified the system once more before launching the second edition of what is now known as SUSFARMS®. The publication of the fourth edition is imminent,” Edmonds said.

Today the Collaboration has the support of Illovo Sugar Africa, Solidaridad Southern Africa, Coca Cola Beverages South Africa, WWF-SA with funding from the Nedbank Green Trust, UCL Company, Noodsberg Canegrowers’ Association, Illovo Planters Group in Eston and the South African Sugar Association and SASRI.

Edmonds said what was really exciting was the adoption of the programme by Illovo Sugar on all its outgrower programmes in both South Africa and the SADC region. “This is really where we see the sustainability of the programme and more importantly its outcome in better farming practices throughout the sub-Saharan region,” Edmonds said.

While the uptake of the programme on the KwaZulu-Natal coastline is still limited, he said at least 85 000has in the KZN Midlands were being managed using the SUSFARMS® Progress Tracker or self-assessment tool. This comprises Illovo Sugar’s Eston and Noodsberg mill supply areas, as well as the UCL Company’s mill supply area around Dalton.

The SUSFARMS® tool has three specific chapters headed Prosperity, People and Planet.

“Prosperity deals with the measurement of economic planning and record-keeping. People assists to measure the social responsibility aspects of the operation and then planet which measures environmental stewardship.”

Edmonds said growers also provided information on the yield and quality of their harvested cane, and data such as rainfall, irrigation water, diesel, electricity, fertiliser and chemicals.

He said the development of the tool was at a point now where the whole idea was to try and develop metrics – or standards of measurement – around the total impact of a farm operation.

“We have to stress though that SUSFARMS® is not about policing growers, although there is that perception, it is rather for each individual to benchmark their performance against their peers. For example, one grower might find he is using more input than other guys. It is about getting on that trajectory of continuous improvement,” Edmonds said.


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