Zim plans to declare sugar a ‘strategic’ crop

Sugarcane plantation

GOVERNMENT says it plans to declare sugar a strategic crop under new reforms meant to unlock new investment into the sector.

Strategic crops get government support, often making them cheaper for consumers and also controlled products.

Official data showed that the industry, which has been characterised by disquiet over monopoly claims, is one of the country’s biggest employers, with about 23 000 workers.

Still, players in the sector have demanded reforms that give interested investors fair ground.

The upcoming changes, announced in a paper that has been discussed in Cabinet, is part of broad reforms announced earlier by Industry and Commerce   minister Sekai Nzenza — which will review the Sugar Production Control Act, a piece of legislation dating back to the colonial era.

“In line with the Sugar Act, which is currently being reviewed to consider sugar a strategic crop, engagements are being done with key stakeholders to promote new investments and players in the sector,” Nzenza said in an analysis of the industry seen by NewsDay Farming.

“Tangaat Hullets (Hippo Valley and Triangle Estates) and over 1 000 small-to-large scale farmers are the cane producers. The sugar industry is the largest employer with an estimated workforce of about 23 000.”

According to the report, the country has excess milling capacity, which stands at around 600 000 metric tonnes (MT) per annum, against a 240 000MT a year current production.

Seen as outdated, Zimbabwe’s Sugar Production Control Act, has been a source of friction among leading industry players and cane farmers who entered the sector following land redistribution at the turn of the millennium.

The legislation, enacted in 1964, has survived several phases of agricultural industry reforms since 1980.

However, it is seen as a tool for propping up big corporates at the expense of thousands of farmers.

“This Act is now outdated,” Nzenza told the Zimbabwe Independent last year.

“It is old and we need to review it to reflect what is now happening. But this remains ongoing. The changes farmers are pushing for are in respect of the revenue sharing models,” Nzenza added.

Her move came after sugarcane farmers scaled up the push for reforms that include an “urgent review” of the contentious revenue sharing model between growers and millers.

Farmers complained that they were getting 77% of the value of their produce, adding that the viability of their farms was under threat.

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