Categories: Articles, Crop productionPublished On: 14th May 2024

Zimbabwe’s sugar industry weathers climate storm

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Zimbabwe’s sugar industry is making strides to weather climate uncertainty after a long dry spell that has affected the agriculture sector. Sugar production is one of the agriculture sectors that are water intensive, and with low water levels in dams that feed irrigation, officials say low rainfall could curtail the sector’s performance. To boost the country’s irrigation, government has been on a drive to rehabilitate small dams, with the President also committing to build more dams across the country as a response to efforts to boost food production.

Late last month sugar industry officials were forced to issue a statement assuring both government and the public that there was no cause for alarm because the country was consuming sugar from last season. This came as sugar – like many basic commodities – saw a sharp price increase in recent weeks. Such developments are usually seen as a sign of looming commodity shortages.

“As sugar cane is a 12-month crop grown under irrigation, the sugar that is currently on sale was produced from the sugar cane crop harvested during the last milling season which ended in December 2023,” said Willard Zireva, the Zimbabwe Sugar Association Chairman.

The statement highlighted the delicate conditions the sector is operating under as the country battles drought and low agriculture performance due to poor rainfall and poor investment in irrigation.

Late last month sugar industry officials were forced to issue a statement assuring both government and the public that there was no cause for alarm
because the country was consuming sugar from last season.

Last year, the industry reported a four percent drop in sugar production, from 290 000 tonnes to 280 000 tonnes, citing various factors that included the government decision to lift import tariffs on basic commodities that included sugar.

Government also gazetted minimum wages for sugar industry workers, and according to industry executives, this had an impact on production as producers diverted resources to meet salaries. However, El Niño concerns have loomed large in the sugar industry with low rainfall threatening irrigation viability which is affecting agriculture performance, especially water-intensive sectors such as sugar production.

“Due to the good rainfall received in the previous agricultural season, the major dams that supply water for sugar cane irrigation in the Lowveld have sufficient water to last at least the next two seasons,” Willard said in a statement.

“There will be adequate sugar supply for both household and industrial consumption despite the current El Niñoinduced drought that the country has experienced, and which has affected the harvest expected from the other agricultural crops,” he said.

The sugar sector has found relief from previous normal to above normal rainfall during the 2022/23 rainfall season filling irrigation dams.

Last December, Hippo Valley Estates, the country’s major sugar producer, reported a seven percent drop of production, citing among other things farmers failing to deliver sugar cane in time. Farmers have long demanded irrigation rehabilitation in a sector that has seen infrastructure vandalism and decline after the controversial land reform programme more than two decades ago.

At peak, the country produced up to 400 000 tonnes of sugar and has been a major exporter to countries including the United States and the United Kingdom. Despite enough irrigation water currently, concerns remain about the sector’s performance in the event of another drought cycle in the coming years which could further lower dam water levels. The agriculture ministry says it is projecting a multibillion-dollar agriculture industry by 2025. That goal demands escalated investment in irrigation for capital intensive sectors that include sugar production.

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