COVID 19 - Message from SA Canegrowers' Chairman, Rex Talmage
Following President Ramaphosa’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown (from midnight Thursday, 26 March 2020 to 16 April 2020) to combat and stem the spread of the Coronavirus (“COVID-19”), I am writing to provide more clarity on how this will affect the sugar industry. Our world as we know it has entered uncharted territory amid the proliferation of COVID-19, resulting in understandably high levels of uncertainty caused by this global pandemic. SA Canegrowers will keep you updated with credible and valuable information and encourage you to reference such sources and moderate those that either misinform or fuel confusion and anxiety.
It is NOT business as usual.
There needs to be a common understanding that the mandate to continue operating comes with a responsibility to do so, while holding human health and safety as paramount in importance. Virus transmission rates are being carefully monitored and analysed and the decision to continue operating is subject to review by the government and the sugar industry stakeholders.
‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are’ (Theodore Roosevelt) are pertinent words at a time like this.
Keep yourselves, farmworkers and their families well informed and supplied with the necessary sanitary supplies.
If we all focus on doing our part, we can contribute to flattening the curve of the COVID-19 infections in South Africa while at the same time continuing to sustain our resilient nation and industry!
The Agricultural Sector and the Sugar Industry
The Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, Thoko Didiza, announced at a press briefing ahead of the lockdown that the agriculture and food supply sector must remain functional during the period and the list of essential services was published on the March 25, 2020.
She indicated that this includes all farm-related operations, agro-processing and food manufacturing, logistics and related services, wholesale and retail services, and all the support functions that ensure efficient delivery of the agro-food system.
The Department of Trade and Industry, Minister Ebrahim Patel’s office, has advised the SA Sugar Association that exemption (during lockdown) will be extended to essential agricultural services including the harvesting of sugarcane, transportation of cane from farms to mills and delivery of sugar to the terminal from mills. The National Consumer and Competition Commission will be monitoring industries closely to ensure there is no unjustified price increases over this time.
The Department of Trade and Industry (“dti”) has published a list of 22 products classified as critical during this period. Sugar is included in this list.
Suppliers are required to maintain adequate stocks of these products and ensure there is equitable distribution of these goods to customers and consumers. The dti regulations also require suppliers, retailers and wholesalers to limit the bulk purchasing of these products by customers.
In order to ensure the supply of sugar to the local market during this critical time, SA Canegrowers will be working with all growers to assist with the continuation of operations during the lockdown, while at the same time helping to secure the safety and wellbeing of farmers, workers and their families.
SA Canegrowers Arrangements
The SA Canegrowers’ Executive have been in continual communication with all staff regarding the protocols which the company have put in place.
All SA Canegrowers’ staff will be working remotely throughout the lock-down period and are contactable by e-mail as well as on their cell phones.
As the situation intensified, prior to the President’s announcement regarding the shut-down, Management had already responded and requested staff to work from home as from Wednesday, 25 March and any issues regarding connectivity have been raised and dealt with.
A weekly team call has been set up using Zoom so that staff can catch-up, provide updates on issues in their area or the industry as a whole and it is an opportunity for social interaction with each other.
Staff have been requested to develop and provide their Senior Regional Manager with a work plan for the shut-down period which includes keeping up to date with matters in their area, maintaining the membership database, catching-up on reading material, admin, as well as doing some on-line training.
SA Canegrowers will continue to serve the best interest of the growers during these unprecedented and alarming times. We urge you to keep in contact with your Regional and Head Office Staff to ensure continuity of business and of the service they provide.
SA Sugar Association Arrangements
Plans have been agreed at SASA for the designated authority for the declaration of the first price of the season, SASRI and STC.
SASRI arrangements for the 21-day lockdown period are designed to enable essential and critical operations only, and to ensure the wellbeing of their employees as far as possible.
The following is a brief outline of key actions:
Essential operations on all remote farms with be maintained by existing live-in staff and the farm managers to ensure supply of cane to the mills as per contractual obligations.
In the event of any of the employees falling ill, an isolation space/room will be used with dedicated ablutions and the Farm Manager will, in conjunction with HR, manage the situation.
At Mount Edgecombe all employees who are able to work from home will do so.
Essential and critical operations on site that require daily attention, such as the insect rearing facility, weed biocontrol, quarantine etc, will be conducted by SASRI residents in conjunction with standby staff and students/interns – all of whom live on site in SASRI houses.
Essential/emergency maintenance to SASRI’s infrastructure that may be required will be monitored by this group of residents.
One of the houses will be reserved for use as an isolation space should anyone become ill.
All biosecurity operations will cease, and all remote offices will be closed. All survey teams will be on standby in the event of an emergency.
Extension specialists will work from home but will not visit farmers.
The SASRI Management team has a closed WhatsApp group and is in daily contact regarding the operations and any events that occur – and all will be working remotely from their homes.
Regarding the STC:
Given that the STC is a training institution and more than 95% of work requires the presence of learners in the workshops and lecture room the announced lockdown means a total shutdown for the STC for learners and training staff. All training will stop on Thursday 26 March 2020, 12h00.
Depending on the stage in which courses are interrupted, management will implement plans to continue training and assessments after the lockdown period, these will be communicated individually with learners/their organisations.
The STC has collected enough information from all learners to contact them to inform them if any case of COVID-19 infection of current learners or staff at the centre comes to light in the coming weeks.
By close of business on Thursday, all staff will have vacated the site.
Managers will continue to operate remotely.
Security will remain on site at STC.
STC accommodation may be used to house security staff for KS, SASRI, STC and SAST sites, as requested by TFS.
There are two critical activities that growers will need to pay attention to – the first being the health and welfare of their workers during and post this lock down period and the second is ensuring free movement of labour and logistics.
More details follow on this matter but I would like to assure you that as this pandemic unfolds, SA Canegrowers will continue to act in your best interest and we will endeavor to keep you updated if anything changes that could impact your business operation.
Calm heads and clear thinking’ are required in times of crisis, and to this end, SA Canegrowers’ leadership is calling on growers to remain calm, focused, well-informed and constructive in this time of uncertainty.