Cheaper rail freight is finally coming for sugar cane growers

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Small-scale sugar cane growers in KwaZulu-Natal are eager to save millions of rands on their annual bill. Thanks to the Mkhuze rail transshipment facility, which is finally being handed over to them today, farmers are expected to hold on to an additional R7 million each year.

The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development agreed to fund the R38 million facility after Tongaat Hulett Sugar (THS) announced it would end a road transport subsidy for small Makhathini producers, and farmers have asked for help.

The department appointed the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda) to implement the project, and less than 18 months after Safda released the tender for the development of the transshipment facility, it is ready to be handed over by Minister Thoko Didiza to the 1,900 small-scale sugar cane farmers in Makhathini who will benefit from it.

The CEO of the South African Farmers Development Association (Safda), Dr Siyabonga Madlala. Photo: Supplied/Safda

The station will remove around 300km of road to the Felixton plant and, according to Safda, will reduce the total cost of transport for farmers to around R112 per tonne. Previously, farmers paid R170 per tonne, with the rest of the costs covered by the HRT subsidy.

Safda’s managing director, Dr Siyabonga Madlala, told Food For Mzansi that with around 117,000 tonnes of sugar cane currently coming from Makhathini every year, this equates to a total saving of R6.8 million per year. for its small farmers.

“Over time, as the potential for sugarcane production increases for Makhathini farmers, delivering 350,000 tonnes using the new transshipment facility could save [them] R16 million a year,” he says.

The facilities also include a dump that can unload road vehicles at a rate of over 300 tonnes per hour. According to consulting engineers Bosch Holdings, a decommissioned weir was salvaged, dismantled and completely refurbished to like-new condition.

The biggest impact

Reggie Ngcobo, spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, told Food For Mzansi that the Mkhuze rail transshipment facility will enhance meaningful farmer participation in the cane sector. sugar and simultaneously bring them into the mainstream in this lucrative business sector.

“The Minister’s visit is important because the Mkhuze rail siding will help farmers transport their sugar cane by rail to the sugar mills. [The minister will also] officially open a Farmer Support Unit that will support farmers in northern KwaZulu-Natal,” says Ngcobo.

Madlala adds that there is an addition to the financial and infrastructural impact of the project on development. “The switch from road to rail also has a positive impact on reducing carbon emissions [which is] in accordance with the government’s commitments to the Kyoto Protocol.

“In addition, the project will support a reduction in the volume of trucks on the road, particularly on the N2 north of Richards Bay to Jozini.”

The new railside facility incorporates the design and installation of state-of-the-art equipment, including a new weir.  Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi
The new railway siding facility includes state-of-the-art equipment, including a new weir. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

Didiza will also hand over agricultural machinery and equipment worth R10 million. This is part of the commissioning of the uMkhanyakude District Sugar Cane Farmers Production Support Unit (FPSU).

On Saturday (May 7, 2022), the minister is due to hand over certificates of establishment and title deeds to five communities in Melmoth. They are also expected to receive some of the equipment acquired through development funding, Ngcobo said.

“The cumulative value of land acquisition and development funding exceeds R1 billion.”

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