Sugar production in sub-Saharan Africa is in a disruptive phase driven by a global oversupply and negative sentiment by consumers towards the health impacts of eating sugar.

In this edition of the annual SADC Sugar Digest we track the change as the South African industry looks to diversify milling production and in Zimbabwe the growth of demand for fuel grade ethanol is seeing massive growth of the sector in the country, particularly in the development of water storage dams for irrigation and land being planted to sugarcane.

In Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo sugar remains in short supply, however the massive imports of cheap sugar from the depressed world markets into Kenya has put domestic production under pressure through increased illegal imports across porous borders.

In Swaziland and Mauritius, the change in the export markets since the scrapping of sugar beet quotas for farmers in the European Union, has seen both countries struggle to meet their previous export targets.

In Mauritius the response to the pressure has seen an increase in the production of rum from 4% to 14% of the annual sugar crop, and in Swaziland the multi-billion Rand Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project has resulted in the upgrade of the Ubombo mill and the installation of an additional boiler allowing for the production of excess electricity which is supplied to the country’s national grid.

In fact, the Swaziland government in partnership with its sugar industry is aiming to wean the country of its imported power supply from South Africa above inflation rates imposed by the power utility, Eskom, has meant thousands of smallholder growers have produced their crop at a loss on the back of a record low world sugar price this season.

While this may all point to a rather bleak future for the industry in fact sugarcane offers some of the most exciting biorefining opportunities able to significantly reduce the SADC region’s dependency on fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

The future of the sugar industry is going to be fascinating and could provide some innovative solutions able to mitigate against the region’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in a meaningful way.

So, watch this space!

Gareth Wright – SADC Sugar Digest Editor