EU’s E1.2bn boosts sugarcane farmers’ lives

By Phephile Motau

The about E1.2 billion pumped in by the European Union (EU) into Eswatini’s sugar sector has resulted in a significant increase in smallholder sugarcane growers’ income. Eswatini was one of the major beneficiaries of the EU’s funding that was for supporting the sugar industry in line with the phasing out of the favourable Sugar Protocol. The Kingdom received a total allocation of €120m (approximately E1.2 billion) for the period 2006 – 2013. 

EU Ambassador to Eswatini, Dessislava Choumelova

With this budget, the EU supported the implementation of the country’s National Adaptation Strategy (NAS), which aimed to ensure the continued economic viability of the sugar sector in the country.

An external evaluation report released in the first week of September has unearthed that the EU interventions in the sugar sector were comparatively very successful in the southern African context, thereby making a huge difference in the lives of smallholder sugarcane farmers, in particular women.

The survey indicated that families in the KDDP and LUSIP had improved incomes compared to what they obtained before sugarcane. Before sugarcane the income obtained was between E100 – E3 000 while income received during the growing of sugarcane is between E3000- E60 000 per year which is generated through employment and dividends as well as board sitting allowances.

“Observed are newly built modern houses and an influx of businesses in the area. There is an increase in the number of vehicles using the roads most of the cars belongs to the sugarcane scheme beneficiaries,” the evaluation states.

It was reported that through the significant EU support, the communities had transformed within the project development area. 

In the main town, there are 25 new business buildings, mostly relating to servicing the vitalized rural sector, livestock is in better condition, public health facilities have been strengthened, and a major supermarket chain was opened. The report states that in an area where the internet was unknown members of the farmer companies had Facebook accounts operated through smartphones and some businesses are operated and managed online.

It was reported that an impact assessment survey confirmed the positives outcomes of LUSIP I which include the implementation of an efficient and supportive resettlement programme; an increase in income generation within the PDA through the sugar cane schemes, with average household income increasing by over 30 per cent; positive trends in indicators of poverty and wealth attributed to LUSIP; and an enhanced ability of beneficiaries to build improved dwelling infrastructures within their homesteads, and there is an increase in the type of durable assets owned by beneficiaries. 

The project also resulted in positive functional relations at all levels in the communities, based on the consultative approach introduced and members of the communities participate effectively in development which enhanced sustainability.

The EU intervention objective was met through the addition of a new cane development area of more than 1000 hectares for small-scale farmers. 

Before the EU intervention, the smallholder farmers were faced with various challenges that negatively affected their farm proceeds. Included in this list were bank loans taken for capital costs, and high haulage costs (within which the poor condition of roads was stated to be a factor considered before transportation rates were applied). 

Notably, the Road Transport Infrastructure worth about E173 million (EUR 10,038,632.93) contributed to improved road infrastructure which meant reduced ‘burn to crush’ time which in turn significantly improved cane quality resulting in better sucrose abstraction and income. 

It also contributed to the improved quality of life for the thousands who live in the programme areas through ease of mobility and access to services and transportation of goods.

On the side of the millers, the increase in planted cane area and improvement of cane yields enabled full utilisation of mill capacity to compensate for the expansion done in 2011. Consequently, this translated to increased competitiveness in the sugar industry.

Through the intervention, the project assisted farmers in abstracting irrigation water from a more reliable, guaranteed water supply such as the Lubovane Dam and associated infrastructure. Such a move was very important in minimising reliance on the fluctuating river flow levels because of climate change experienced through drought and floods. 

EU Ambassador to Eswatini, Dessislava Choumelova, said the success of this project demonstrates the EU’s commitment to contribute positively to the development initiatives of Eswatini, thereby helping to lift emaSwati out of poverty.

“The EU is here to help change lives. We are very proud that this project has fully achieved its goals of job creation, women and youth economic empowerment, inclusive sustainable development and ultimately transforming the lives of the smallholder sugarcane farmers. Though the project has ended, we hope its future effects will continue to make a difference to even more beneficiaries, with the younger generation taking over the small-holder farming schemes” said Ambassador Choumelova.

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