With the agricultural sector still ravaged by difficulties stemming from the haphazard land reform, Zimbabwe's sugar producers are expecting a nominal production increase to just over 370,000 metric tonnes of sugar for the 2011/12 season, a figure which is way below the industry's installed capacity of 600,000 metric tonnes per year.

Zimbabwe's agricultural sector continues to suffer from poor planning, amidst indications that some well0-connected government officials have multiple farms, most of which however are lying idle and under-utilised. Most of the country's white commercial farmers have been displaced from their farms and most of them have fled the country while some of the once vibrant commercial farms and plantations have now been parceled out to black peasant farmers.

The commercial sugar producers' representative grouping, the Zimbabwe Sugar Association says the country's sugar output is set to surge beyond 370,000 for the forthcoming 2011-2012 season, a nominal increase on the 2010/11 season's output figure of 334,288 metric tonnes. One of the bigger companies producing sugar in Zimbabwe included Tongaat Hullet, which also has operations in SA and Mozambique.

The Zimbabwe Sugar Association chairman, Muchadeyi Masunda, who is also mayor of the city of Harare, said: "The production for the 2011/12 season is expected to be in the region of 371,807 metric tonnes of sugar. This represents an increase of 8% on the previous year and will be 62% of the installed production capacity."

The country's sugar production industry continues to be affected by disputes between the government and producers over lease holdings and other constraints such as a prolonged drought in areas such as Chiredzi, where most of the sugar estates are.

Masunda said sugar exports to European, US and other international markets amounted to 133,144 metric tonnes for the 2010/11 season, against the previous comparative period's total exports of 107,436 metric tonnes. Zimbabwe currently has an agreement with the European Union (EU) to export sugar into the region free of duty and quota restrictions.

For the local market, which continues to face stiff competition from foreign imports from Mozambique, Botswana and SA, Masunda said the local producers sold about 174,024 metric tonnes of sugar between April last year and March. "The non-availability of sugar stocks at the beginning of the season, competition from imported sugars and the end customers' low disposable income adversely affected sales," he said.

Masunda further revealed that imports were hurting the country's commercial sugar producers, saying "official statistics obtained from the Ministry of Industry and Commerce indicate that 83,983mt of sugar" were imported into Zimbabwe during the trading period under review.

Tongaat Hullet senior executive, Sydney Mtsambiwa recently said an industry recovery programme was underway to try to revamp sugar production in Zimbabwe. This process, he said, would see an improvement in cane yields and the re-establishment of private farmer cane lands, a development that is expected to lead to the industry getting back to its capacity production of 600,000 metric tonnes a year, while Tongaat's production in Zimbabwe will revert to its peak of 300,000 metric tonnes.

"Restoring the viability of the private farmer sector of the sugar industry is key to a successful and sustainable rural farming community in the south-eastern lowveld of Zimbabwe," he said.

source: businesslive

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