A Tell All Webinar - Sugar 2021 by SAAFFI

SAAFFI recently hosted one of their successful precise short training courses aimed at educating delegates on the latest trends within the sugar industry and its contributions to South African communities.

By Guest Author on 08 March 2021

SAAFFI recently hosted one of their successful precise short training courses aimed at educating delegates on the latest trends about the sugar industry and its contributions to South African communities. The intention was to provide a balanced view of the use of sugar.

The Socio-Economic Contribution of the South African Sugar Industry

Naiem Alley from Illovo Sugar, the largest sugar processor in South Africa introduced the role of sugar in our society. The South African sugar industry makes an important contribution to the economy given its agricultural and industrial investments, labour intensity, and linkages with suppliers, support industries and customers. The industry is a catalyst to development and creates employment in rural and deep rural areas where there is often little other economic activity.

Direct employment in the sugarcane field and the sugar mills cuts across a diverse array of skills from farm labourer to the agricultural sciences. There are approximately 85 000 direct jobs and 350 000 indirect jobs. Approximately one million people, or 2% of South Africa’s population, depend on the cane growing and milling activities of the industry.

Priya Seetal, Nutrition Manager of the South African Sugar Association, handled the hugely controversial topic of the impact of sugar on health. According to the South African Sugar Association, there is huge confusion by consumers that the intake of excessive sugar causes diabetes. There is also confusion among consumers as to the sucrose content of foods. “There is no scientific evidence show a direct and unique tole of dietary sugars with type 2 diabetes” but sugar should be consumed in moderation according to both speakers. This is considered as less than 5-10% of daily intake. Diabetics must consume less than 5%.

Priya is previously in the public record in the Farmers weekly as stating: “Sugar consumption is linked to a rise in non-communicable disease.” Over many years, several expert committees have examined the scientific evidence relating to the consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates. These committees have included The European Food Safety Authority (2010), World Health Organisation and Food & Agriculture Organisation (2003), Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (2002), Food & Agriculture Organisation (1998) and the UK Department of Health (1989). All have concluded that the balance of available evidence does not implicate sugar at the level currently consumed in any of the ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, or cancer at any site. For more information, visit https://www.farmersweekly.co.za/archive/south-african-sugar-association-on-scientific-proof/

Sugar and ethanol filling stations

Analysis of potential commercial ethanol feedstocks in South Africa reveals that grain sorghum and sugar cane are the leading contenders. Maize is also a suitable feedstock, but its use for ethanol production is banned in South Africa. Sorghum used to be cultivated extensively, but production declined as the local market demand for sorghum decreased. However, large parts of South Africa are well-suited to sorghum cultivation (more than for maize) and its drought-resistant properties make it an attractive crop, for example as a feedstock for local ethanol manufacture. Large quantities of sugar cane and sugar are produced locally, mostly in KwaZulu Natal, and about 40% of sugar production is exported.

Sugar tax

South Africa was the first country to implement an 11% excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in 2018. The legislative move was years in the making and throughout the process, work by researchers from Wits University contributed directly to decisions made in and around the policy.

At the time South Africa had a growing obesity burden, with 39% of women and 11% of men obese, and was among the top 10 global consumers of sugary drinks.

Researchers stressed that the tax could have an impact on obesity and that in the absence of preventive measures, the country would face increased obesity and related diseases in the coming years.

In saying this, research shows that no changes in health conditions have been noted by Mexico, which has also implemented a sugar tax.

Although the sugar industry is under a lot of pressure, it is pioneering its way of finding sustainable solutions and uses of sugar for South Africa as well as its international consumers.