Sugarcane farming is of paramount importance in South Africa, influencing the economy, society, trade, and sustainability. This essay explores its role in generating economic value, employment, rural development, and trade relationships. Additionally, it emphasizes the need to balance growth with environmental preservation in policymaking.


1. Foreign Exchange Earnings

Sugarcane farming plays a pivotal role in South Africa’s economy by contributing significantly to foreign exchange earnings. The country exports various sugar products to international markets, generating substantial revenue. This foreign exchange income not only strengthens the national economy but also helps maintain trade balances and supports economic growth.

2. Job Opportunities

Sugarcane farming creates job opportunities across various sectors. From sugarcane transporters who move the harvested crop to marketeers who promote and sell the products, to factory managers who oversee processing, numerous individuals find employment. This employment chain enhances livelihoods, reduces unemployment rates, and improves the overall socio-economic landscape.

3. Income for Workers

The income earned by workers in the sugarcane industry significantly enhances their living standards. This industry provides a means for workers to earn a sustainable income, which directly impacts their quality of life, education, healthcare access, and overall well-being.

4. Town Development

Sugarcane farming contributes to the development of towns such as Durban and Shepstone. The presence of sugar mills and related infrastructure spurs urban growth, leading to improved services, facilities, and overall urban development.

5. Infrastructure and Social Amenities

The industry’s success results in the development of critical infrastructure and social amenities. The demand for efficient transportation systems, like roads and railways, increases due to the movement of sugarcane and related products. Hospitals, schools, and other public services also see growth as the industry’s economic impact expands.

6. Industrial Development

Sugarcane farming catalyzes the growth of complementary industries. Sugar mills, beverage companies, and other processing facilities thrive due to the availability of raw materials. This industrial expansion diversifies the economy and creates more employment opportunities.

7. Revenue through Taxation and Licensing

Government revenue gets a boost through the taxation and licensing of sugar factories and plantations. The funds generated can be reinvested in infrastructure development, public services, and various developmental projects.

8. Agricultural Research Advancement

The sugarcane industry encourages advancements in agricultural research. Developing better sugarcane varieties with higher yields and disease resistance enhances productivity and sustainability. This research extends beyond sugarcane farming, benefitting agricultural practices as a whole.

9. Food Production

Sugarcane isn’t solely about raw materials; it provides essential food products. Sugar, molasses, and even sweets produced from sugarcane-derived ingredients are consumed by the population, ensuring a stable supply of food and contributing to food security.

10. Areas of Academic Research

Sugarcane farming serves as a subject of academic research and study. From agronomy to sustainability, the industry provides rich opportunities for scientific exploration. This research not only advances agricultural practices but also contributes to broader academic knowledge and innovation.



  • Harvested cane is transported to the factory by road on trucks or railway
  • Cane is weighed, chopped and crushed
  • Crushing is done by giant pressure machines or large roller mills so as to extract the juice and the cane fibre is carried away for use in the boilers

  • Juice is mixed with slaked lime to settle out the dirt to be sent back to the fields
  • Juice is then thickened up into syrup by boiling off the water using steam in the process called evaporation in order to improve the energy efficiency of the factory
  • The syrup is placed into very large pans for boiling, more water is boiled off until conditions are right for sugar crystals to grow with the help of sugar dust
  • The resulting mixture of crystals and mother liquor is spun in centrifuges to separate the two.
  • Crystals are then given a final dry with hot air before being stored ready for dispatch to domestic and foreign markets
  • The by-product of molasses is used for making cattle food and alcohol



Uses of Sugar

  • In baking to sweeten bread, cakes, etc.
  • Sweetening foods and drinks e.g. porridge, chapati, tea, coffee, etc.
  • Making local brews e.g. Karubu, nguru, etc.
  • In soft drinks industries e.g. soda, juice, etc.
  • Making sweets and chocolates, etc.
  • Manufacture of drugs e.g. syrups and sugar-coated tablets.

Uses of By-products

  • Molasses is used as a sweetener for livestock feeds.
  • Its also used to manufacture ethanol, acetone, and ethyl-acetate.
  • Bagasse or fibre left after squeezing the juice is used as fuel for boilers, for preparing pulp for making paper used for making cement and fertilizer bags and as fodder or manure.
  • Filter cake resulting from the filtration process is used as manure for the cane.



  • Pests e.g. termites attack setts lowering the farmer’s yield.
  • Diseases e.g. sugarcane mosaic which causes the crop to become stunted with leaves becoming yellow.
  • Mismanagement of some sugar factories resulting in their closure and subsequent loss of income and jobs.
  • The inability of some factories to cope with the supply of cane from out-growers due to low production capacity and outdated technology.
  • The local sugar industry faces competition from cheap imported sugar from COMESA countries.
  • Strikes by cane farmers and transporters due to inadequate pay resulting in drop in output.


Sugarcane is a coarse perennial grass belonging to the Saccharum family.

It was introduced in Kenya in 1902 by an Australian farmer whereby commercial growing began in Miwani, Kibos, and Ramisi.

Main Growing Areas

Nyanza: Muhoroni, Miwani, Chemilil and Awendo.
Coastal: Ramisi.
Western: Mumias, Nzoia, Kabras, Nambele

Conditions Favouring Sugarcane growing (requirements)


  • High temperatures(21◦c-27◦C)
  • High and well-distributed rainfall (1200-1500 mm annually).
  • Dry and sunny weather during harvesting to increase sugar accumulation in the cane.
  • Fertile and well-drained soils.
  • Undulating land for machinery to be used and for easier transportation of cane to factories.
  • Altitude between sea level and 1600 m.

Human Requirements

  • Abundant labour for planting, weeding, cutting, and loading onto trucks.
  • Good transport infrastructure for sugarcane to reach the factory within a week after harvesting.
  • Location of processing factories within the growing areas for quick processing of sugarcane before losing its sugar content through drying.
  • Availability of capital to pay workers in the field, buy farm machinery, etc.

Marketing of Sugar

  • Consumed locally.
  • Factories sell to wholesalers and retail outlets to consumers.


what is sugar cane?

sugarcane is any of the several species of tall perennial true grasses of the genus Saccharum, tribe andropogoneae and it belongs to the grass family called Poaceae.

the official classification of sugarcane is Saccharum officinarum.

it is common in tropical and subtropical countries throughout the world

sugarcane is any of the several species of tall perennial true grasses of the genus Saccharum, tribe andropogoneae and it belongs to the grass family called Poaceae.

several different horticultural varieties are known and they differ by their stem color and length

sugarcane is composed of six species of perennial grasses of the genus Saccharum L, in the tribe andropogoneae.

there are two wild species (s. spontaneum and s. robustum) and four cultivated species (s. officinarum, s.barberi, s.sinense and s.edule)

sugarcane is indigenous to tropical south and southeast asia

sugarcane has been cultivated since ancient times and it was one of the first cash crops of early colonial America

the countries that produce the largest amount of sugarcane are brazil, India, China, Mexico, Thailand, and Pakistan

sugarcane is the world’s largest crop by production quantity. sugar is produced in 120 countries. global production now exceeds 165 million tonnes a year.

approximately 80% of global sugar is produced from sugarcane while the remaining 20% is produced from sugar beet, which is grown mostly in temperate zones of the northern hemisphere

Brazil accounts for almost 25% of the world’s production of sugar and is the largest producer of sugarcane in the world

brazil uses sugarcane to produce sugar and ethanol for gasoline-ethanol blends (gasohol), a locally popular transportation fuel.

in India, sugarcane is used to produce sugar, jaggery, and alcoholic beverages.

The following are physical and climatic conditions which favour sugar cane growing

The following are physical and climatic conditions which favour sugar cane growing:


High temperatures throughout the growing period, with mean monthly temperatures not falling much below 21ºC. sugarcane grows best in the warm, sunny, frost-free weather areas. it requires a tropical or subtropical climate with a minimum of 600mm of annual moisture.

however, it also grows well in subtropical climates

it can grow well where the temperature ranges from 20 to 350C.

the optimum temperature for germination of stem cutting is 32 to 38 degrees centigrade.

sugarcane responds to a long period of sunlight of about 12 to 14 hours.

high humidity (80-85%) favors rapid cane elongation during the main growth period

rainfall and requirement

Abundant moisture (rainfall) – Sugar cane grows best where annual rainfall is between 1100 mm to 1500 mm.

The rain should be well distributed throughout the growing season. However, drier weather is required when the cane has reached maturity or just before harvesting.  

A period of dry sunny weather for ripening and harvesting is also important.  

Abundant water supply for irrigation, particularly where rainfall is not evenly distributed throughout the growing season. Water for irrigation is obtained from both rivers and underground sources (boreholes). 

soil requirement

sugarcane grows on almost all classes of soil, but it needs fertile, well-drained soil

humid soil from 100 to 150cm deep with good drainage are most suitable.

it grows well in deep, well-drained soils of medium fertility of sandy loan soil texture with a PH range from 6.0 to 7.7.

the optimum soil PH is about 6.5 but sugarcane can tolerate a considerable degree of soil acidity and alkalinity

waterlogged soils, which have no drainage, are not suitable.

uses of sugarcane

sugarcane is used for sugar production, as raw material in the human food industries, as a fertilizer, and as livestock fodder,

the primary use for sugarcane is to process sugar, which is then used in producing an infinite number of products.

the type of sugar produced by sugarcane is called sucrose.

sucrose is used as a sweetening agent for foods and in the manufacturing of cakes, candies, preservation, soft drinks, alcohol, and numerous other foods.

it adds taste, texture, and color to baked goods and provides energy for the yeast used in baking bread.

it adds body to yogurt and helps to balance acidity in tomato sauces and salad dressings.

sugar helps to preserve jams, cereals, cakes, candies, cookies, and drinks.

tender, moist cakes and the golden brown, crispy essence of biscuits are due to the presence of sugar in them

the pulp from the cane is recycled and used to make cardboard and other forms of sugar board that can be used as the ceiling tec.

recently sugarcane has also been used to manufacture biofuel, which serves as the replacement for oil-based fuel and related products.

the pulp of sugarcane can also be left aside in the sun to produce a fertilizer that is nourishing food for other plants and flowers.

Sugarcane is a crop that requires specific conditions to grow successfully. It thrives in warm climates, with high temperatures and high levels of humidity. It also requires fertile soil that is well-drained and rich in nutrients. Adequate water supply is also crucial for the growth of sugarcane. The crop also requires a specific PH range of the soil. These conditions make it ideal for cultivation in tropical and subtropical regions, such as the Caribbean, Brazil, and India. However, with the advent of technology and better irrigation, farmers are now able to cultivate sugarcane in other regions as well. It is important for farmers to understand the specific conditions required for growing sugarcane, and to take steps to provide those conditions in order to maximize yields and ensure the success of their crops.


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