SOUTH African cane growers could soon double their yields and income if they adopted a new technology for planting sugar cane that is making Brazil one of the biggest producers in the world, the chief operating officer of seed manufacturer Syngenta, John Atkin, said last week.
Syngenta wants to introduce this technology, called Plene, to SA. The government is in partnership with the sugar industry in a programme that seeks to mentor co-operatives of small and medium-size growers in Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial government has earmarked R185m between 2008 and next year to provide support to farmers who received land as part of its land reform programme.
The money will be used to help with training, technical support and infrastructure developments offered by Tongaat Hulett to thousands of beneficiaries, particularly small and medium-size farmers and community co-operatives, in a project called Operation Vuselela (Revive).
Mr Atkin said Plene is a technology that simplifies sugar cane planting, using buds that are less than 4cm in length and are treated against diseases and infestations. This innovation was conceived, developed and tested in Brazil.
The technology could be the answer to SA’s growing desire to increase sugar production following a strategic industrial plan that proposes the product be used for biofuel production.
Mr Atkin said the adoption of Plene would allow less soil compacting and better working conditions for the labour involved in sugar cane planting. Syngenta’s research showed benefits including a 15% production cost saving per hectare, while productivity increased by between five and 15 tons per hectare.
According to the Baseline 2012 — an outlook of southern African agricultural production, consumption, prices and trade for the period 2012-21 by the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) — over the past decade, the area under sugar cane production has declined by more than 12% in SA.
In the document, Ferdinand Meyer, BFAP director, said new initiatives considered to improve the efficiency of the industry include the production of biofuels from sugar.