Sugar cane crop production in the 2011/12 season recovered somewhat from the effects of the drought experienced in the 2010/11 season, the South African Cane Growers’ Association (Canegrowers) reports.

The 2011/12 cane crop production increased by 4.89% and about 16.8-million tons of cane was crushed.

Despite the increase, total saleable sugar production amounted to about 1.82-million tons – a decrease of 86 748 t of sugar, compared with the 2010/11 season.

Sugar producer Illovo stated in its results presentation for the year ended March 31 that the drought resulted in a 24% year-on-year drop in sugar production from its South African operations.

The lower cane volumes on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast resulted in the pro- ducer’s Umzimkhulu factory remaining closed for the season, with cane diverted to the Sezela mill to improve available factory capacity.

Further, Canegrowers points out that the global sugar market also suffered losses as a result of the 2010/11 drought, which severely impacted on the quantity of sugar available for export.

The Sugar Milling Research Institute reports that the South African sugar industry is one of the world’s most cost- competitive producers of high-quality sugar, producing an average of 2.3-million tons of sugar a year, of which about 40% is exported.

The impact of the drought, combined with increased local demand, resulted in only 66 215 t of sugar being exported in the 2011/12 season, an 82% drop, compared with the previous season.

This also resulted in lower export reve- nue, as the total export-market proceeds for 2011/12 were R599-million, a decrease of 43.4%, compared with the previous season.

Nevertheless, the net industry proceeds for 2011/12 totalled R9.24-billion, an increase from the R8.29-billion earned the year before.

Diversification
Despite the slight increase in cane production in 2011/12, South African sugar mills believe the survival of the sugar industry depends on diversifying beyond sugar production alone.

The South African Sugar Association (Sasa) says the industry needs to diversify into power generation and ethanol production.

It points out that the sugar industry produces about 20-million tons of cane each year, the biomass of which is equivalent to 1.75-million tons of coal, with a power-generation potential of 1.6 GWh.

Sugar producer Tongaat Hulett also reported in its financial results for the year ended March 31 that it expected to benefit significantly from electricity and ethanol developments going forward.

Sasa points out that cogeneration in the sugar industry will result in billions of rands of investment and the creation of more jobs.

Global growth consultancy Frost & Sullivan says investment in projects aimed at producing ethanol from sugar cane for fuel consumption would most likely increase in Africa in the medium to long term.

Frost & Sullivan chemicals, materials and food research analyst Richard Orendo Smith points out that this view is supported by the fact that the current price of fossil fuels makes such projects eco- nomically profitable.

He notes that there are many reasons for the sugar industry in sub-Saharan Africa to diversify into fuel production and electric power generation.

“Fuel from sugar cane is generated through the production of bioethanol, while power generation emanates from burning sugar cane residues, also called bagasse,” he says.

He points out that several similar projects are under way in Sierra Leone and Angola.

In Angola, State oil company Sonangol, privately owned company Damer and Brazilian firm Odebrecht have formed a sugar and bioethanol joint venture to eventually produce 30-million litres of ethanol, 250 t of sugar and about 160 000 MWh of electricity.

The project will cost about $250-million to establish. Funding will be sourced from Angola Forment Bank and Bank Espirito Santo, as well as the Brazilian State development bank.

Energy company Addax & Oryx Group has initiated a similar project, the Makeni ethanol and power project, in Sierra Leone.

The investment value of the project is $340-million and it is expected to come on stream by the end of 2013.

The project will be funded by entities such as the Industrial Development Corporation, the African Development Bank, Swedfund International and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund.

Smith says the bulk of the bioethanol produced through these projects is earmarked for the European Union (EU) market.

“EU countries have passed a law that will come into effect by 2020, which compels companies that produce and market fuel to mix refined crude oil with at least 10% bioethanol. The main objective of this law is to mitigate the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions on the environment.”

Frost & Sullivan highlights that, in total, 60% of arable land globally is in Africa. In addition, its climate is suit- able for sugar cane cultivation, especially under the tropical or semitropical climatic conditions of West, Central and East Africa, as well as parts of Southern Africa.

Development Projects
As an initiative to help sugar cane growers sustain themselves and find ways to maintain the production of their crops, Canegrowers has initiated a seed-cane scheme, which will look beyond providing financial support for small-scale growers.

During the past five years, the association’s Grower Development Account has financed 17 seed-cane scheme projects to the value of about R15.57-million. The focus of the 2011/12 season was to look at the monitoring and evaluation and sustainability of these projects.

The seed-cane scheme has been initiated to enable participating small-scale growers to buy healthy seed cane at a more competitive price, while they learn about the best management practices that encourage responsible and sustainable land use.

The scheme also includes the implementation of diversity management and leadership workshops to improve trust and help develop a working relationship between the emerging growers and commercial growers.

Canegrowers confirmed its further involve- ment with the farmers when it initiated the Phakamisa project in 2011, which was aimed at improving productivity, competitiveness and the sustainability of small-scale sugar cane cooperatives.

The project is ongoing and has managed to change the mindset of small-scale farmers about the importance of productivity and enterprise, states Canegrowers.

Productivity South Africa, whose goal is to improve the level of productivity in South Africa, partnered with Canegrowers in 2011 to implement the Productivity South Africa Workplace Challenge among small-scale farmers.

The National Development Agency contributed 90% of the R2.8-billion raised to improve the competitiveness of small-scale sugar cane farmers. The balance was provided by Sasa.

The project focused on the importance and value of cooperation to capitalise on economies of scale.

source: engineeringnews

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