Sugarcane production is an important activity and a major employer in the African agriculture, with an estimated six million people deriving their livelihood from the sugar industry. Given these contributions, any factor affecting the industry has an impact on the overall economy. With a relatively low adaptive capacity and poor forecasting systems and mitigation strategies, sugarcane farming is anticipated to be significantly impacted by climate change, just like other agricultural sectors, especially in developing countries.
Smallholder out-grower farmers—which is how we call contracted farmers—of sugarcane across Southern Africa are among those extremely vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as droughts and floods. The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events also increases, leading to an even more critical vulnerability. Additionally, the cultivation of sugar cane entails its risks of negative environmental impacts, including damage to land quality and biodiversity through overuse of fertilizers and pesticides and increases the pressure on potentially scarce water resources.
Climate change is not the only challenge the farmers are facing; access to electricity and irrigation as well as social and business issues have to be tackled additionally. The latter include poor governance and management capacity, as well as unsteady sugar prices due to currency fluctuations, inflation and changing interest rates on loans. In general, there is not only a lack of knowledge about environmental impact of climate change, but also about sugar cane business developments.
In the sugar sector particularly, large corporates such as Illovo Sugar, Africa’s largest sugar producer, have recognized the business risk that smallholder farmers face when they have low capacity to withstand climate shocks. To improve the climate resilience of sugar cane growers, taking their climate-related risks into account, a partnership between the Climate Resilience Infrastructure Development Facility (CRIDF)1 and Illovo Sugar was developed.