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SA Canegrowers’ member moves to mitigate hunger 

SA Canegrowers’ member moves to mitigate hunger 

BY: Colleen Dardagan 07 Oct 2020 Filed in: Canegrowers News

The outbreak of the Corona Virus Disease (Covid-19) in South Africa has thrown into stark relief the plight of those living in informal or deep rural communities particularly in the sugarcane growing regions of KwaZulu-Natal.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the South African economy has reportedly shed 2.8 million jobs with experts pegging joblessness in the country at over 50% with youth unemployment as high as 70%.

In the recently released  National Income Dynamic Study – Corona Virus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) 2020 - South Africa’s unemployed increased from 43% to 53% (13.7 million to 16.5 million) and this number remained unchanged from April to June despite the easing of the national lockdown.

And while the latest GPD figures reflect agriculture as performing well from February to June, those who experienced the greatest decline in employment were the poor, rural, unskilled and less educated, with the percentage decline in employment during the period pegged at ten times higher for the poorest 50% of workers. 

In the latest Stats SA quarter two labour report, the agriculture sector shed 66 000 jobs or 7.6% compared with quarter one. In the report the sector employs 799 000 people nationally.

Further, while in April and June the numbers started recovering in cities and towns, rural farm areas showed a doubling of the percentage of people looking for work.

SA Canegrowers’ member and commercial sugarcane farmer whose farms on the outskirts of the City of Pietermaritzburg, Micheon Ngubane says the reality of these record numbers is playing out in real time and with devastating consequence among the mainly women who are living in abject poverty on the western boundary of his 298ha property.

“I bought this property a couple of years ago when the previous owner emigrated to New Zealand. One of my first priorities when I arrived here was to build relationships with my neighbours. It soon became apparent to me that many were living in the most difficult of circumstances. Unemployment among these communities is very high. And the Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation much worse,” Ngubane said.

Following a recent meeting with the Noodsberg Local Grower Council and SA Canegrowers, R63 400  was earmarked for food vouchers for 139  people living in the community. Ngubane topped up that amount by contributing a further R20 000 towards the R600 vouchers which were supplied by the national retailer, Boxer Stores. The national retailer contributed a further five vouchers to the relief project.

Boxer Stores provides proof of the voucher using an SMS message to the recipients who are then able to realise the voucher in-store.

Ngubane said the sustainability of South Africa’s agricultural sector was now dependent on farmers reaching out and in particular to those who were living in close proximity to their land.

“If you think about it the value of these food vouchers seems so little, a drop in the ocean, but it means so much to those who have received them. These vouchers help to alleviate the suffering and helplessness for only a short time I know, but it’s something, it’s better than nothing. I also think the beneficiaries now know that as farmers we do actually care about them and their welfare,” he said.

Phumlani Cele who works as a security official on Ngubane’s farm and also hails from the community said the vouchers were not only appreciated but were a clear demonstration by the farmer that he had the concerns of the community at heart.

Chairman of SA Canegrowers Rex Talmage said contributing to food vouchers for communities such as this in a time when the country was in crisis was a small part of a greater strategy to grow and develop the sustainability of the sector.

He said despite the massive challenges facing the industry which included the government’s Health Promotions Levy, the association had committed R640 million for industry transformation programmes and development which included, seedcane plot development, a preferential crop price for small-scale growers, agronomic and financial training, leadership development, entrepreneurial skills upliftment, advanced financial management and governance for co-operatives and Board director training.

“A sustainable and vibrant sugarcane growing industry means healthy, sustainable and economically viable rural communities. Each and every one of us at SA Canegrowers is committed to that vision,” he said.