The brains behind the ground-breaking Umoba smallscale booklet, from left, development officers at the Noodsberg mill Charity Mdletshe and Busi Sokhela; Cane Development Manager at the mill Fanie Horn, and Cane Development Administration Officer Kantha Webster.

Growing sugarcane is a step-by-step process as illustrated in a simple guide created by the Development Office at the Noodsberg Mill that will -provide their smallscale growers with further “how to” extension support to ensure they don’t miss a step.

As a natural progression to the remarkable work being done to increase the efficiency and number of small-scale growers supplying sugarcane to Illovo Sugar’s Noodsberg mill in KwaZulu-Natal, the development office at the factory has launched a comprehensive guide to growing the crop from scratch.

In less than a decade, the team of four, headed up by Cane Development Manager, Fanie Horn, has increased the amount of sugarcane delivered to the mill by smallscale growers from 15 000 tons in 2009 to more than 50 000 tons this year.

The booklet, Horn said, was a “massive” step forward in their plans to deliver comprehensive extension services to the about 1 474 smallscale growers in their care.

“Extension services are absolutely everything when it comes to the success of what we do. Growing sugarcane is a step-by-step process and if you miss one step it affects the yields. But, with just two development officers in the field, we can’t get to see all of our growers on a regular basis. This booklet is helping us to fill the gap,” Horn said.

Development Officer Busi Sokhela said the booklet was designed to deliver just the right amount of information in a user-friendly way.

“We host regular development days with the growers but we just felt that something was missing,” said Sokhela.

“A lot of people attend those events and we don’t get to see everyone, so we asked ourselves: what about the people who can’t make it on that particular day? That was when the development team came up with the idea of the booklet.”

Umoba1-SUGAR-CANE

General Manager at the Noodsberg mill Johan van Rensburg browses through the Umoba smallscale grower booklet which he says has become the “Ten Commandments” for growing sugarcane from scratch.

Detailed but simple

The booklet, in English and isiZulu, is illustrated in a detailed but simple style – similar to a school textbook – but with more pictures to provide examples.

It will be distributed at field training days as well as to growers throughout the region with the idea now to extend distribution to the rest of the Illovo Sugar group’s operation in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

Combined with the booklet, the group collaborated with designers from Illovo’s Learning and Development team to put together an infographic outlining in simple terms the process of growing sugarcane from deciding on the size and place of the piece of land to be planted to collecting payment for their crop, which, they say, growers can put on their walls for easy reference.

Charity Mdletshe, who works alongside Sokhela in the field as a development officer, said the posters and the booklets were also designed for use in the more than 25 schools in the district. “We want the children to learn about growing sugarcane as well. We want them to take up agriculture as a career when they leave school, so we believe this poster can also help us with that goal.”

The idea of the booklet, which Horn said would naturally progress to the development of a mobile device application in the near future, was first raised last year.

“The development team came up with this idea. So, we sat down and decided on how we could go about it. We needed a budget and we needed buy-in from head office,” he said.

Head office support

The team came up with the idea of inviting the group Managing Director, Gavin Dalgleish, as well as other members of the group’s senior leadership team to a development day in January this year.

There they presented their concept to Dalgleish who was visibly moved by the project and quickly gave it the company’s endorsement.

“We had this small idea but now it has grown into something we couldn’t ever have imagined,” Sokhela said.

The women said while there were many books available on growing sugarcane most had “too much” information particularly for practical, day-to-day use and were too “high level”.

“We wanted it to be as simple as possible and that is when we came up with the idea of the booklet and the poster. We also had to really think about how to translate it into isiZulu. First, we wanted a ‘proper’ isiZulu translator and then we realised that our growers wouldn’t understand the instructions. We have used the same language in the booklet as we use in our everyday conversations with the growers. Then we had a lot of meetings with the designers and principally with Daryl Williams from the Learning and Development team who made a profound impact on the final outcome.

We talked and planned a lot, we changed ideas as we went along. We initially used a lot of photos, but then we realised that the drawings would be better,” Mdletshe said.

Demand for the booklet

The women said the word was already out among factory staff and they were asking for the booklet.

“Many small-scale farmers grow maize because they think it is difficult to grow sugarcane. But now they are seeing how it is done in the booklet and they are coming to us and saying they want us to help them grow sugarcane,” they said.

Cane Development Administration Officer at the mill Kantha Webster said the booklet was already in demand.

“We started with 30 and used them as an example – a test – and now we have ordered 300. But I think we are soon going to be ordering many more. People are already coming to my office asking where they can get one,” she said.

“What people must understand is that Charity and Busi play a big role in the community,” said Horn. “They listen to people’s problems and help with questions on health issues for example. There is a whole social support side to what they do. As a result, they may have four people on their list of growers to see in a day, but they only get to see two. This booklet is a tool they can leave behind for those wanting more information.”

Sugarcane ten commandments

Mill General Manager Johan van Rensburg gave the booklet his wholehearted support saying there was no doubt it would have a positive impact on the industry in the district. “Growing sugarcane is sequential, from soil identification to the final harvesting. If you miss one step, then the whole value chain is affected. This little booklet is now known at the mill as the sugarcane ten commandments! We have never had an initiative such as this and yes, it is still early on in the process, but what are the growers supposed to do when our development officers are not around? The booklet and the posters will help them become self-sufficient and self-reliant. The impact is going to be very positive.”

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