Dynamics of social reproduction and differentiation among small-scale sugarcane farmers in two rural wards of Kwazulu-Natal
Dynamics of Social Reproduction and Differentiation among Small-Scale Sugarcane Farmers in Two Rural Wards of KwaZulu-Natal A. Dubb M.Phil thesis, Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, University of the Western Cape. Outgrower or contract-farming schemes have long been considered an important „pro-poor‟ method of incorporating small-scale farmers into agro-commodity chains, oft defined by their capital intensity and consequent high barriers of entry. Nonetheless, critics have observed that such schemes often operate under highly imbalanced relations of power between farmers and processors, generate substantial inequality, and negatively impact on household food security. In the province of KwaZulu-Natal, home to much of South Africa‟s sugar industry, the number of small-scale sugarcane outgrowers increased rapidly from near nothing in the late 1960s to around 50,000 in the early 2000s; an increase born out of industry-subsidized miller initiatives, disguised as micro-credit, to bring commercially inalienable Bantustan land under cane production. However, in the past decade small-scale sugarcane growers have faced a precipitous decline following the restructuring of the sugar industry in the 1990s and the onset of drought in the 2000s. This study seeks to trace the origins and shifting structural foundations of small-scale sugarcane production and investigate its impacts on dynamics of social reproduction and accumulation in two rural wards of the Umfolozi region, in the wake of the sale of the central mill by the multinational corporation Illovo to a consortium of largescale white sugarcane growers. Utilizing survey data from 74 small-scale grower homesteads and life-history interviews, it is argued that regulatory restructuring resulted in deteriorating terms of exchange and the retraction of miller oversight in production, cane-haulage and ploughing operations, hence devolved to commercially unstable local contractors. Growers have subsequently struggled to compensate for consequent capital inefficiencies through intensified exploitation, largely due to the successful impact of social grants in mitigating the desperation of family and hired labour, and further face considerable barriers to expansion in land. While proceeds from sugarcane continue to represent an additional source of coveted cash-income, sparse off-farm income opportunities have gained prominence as a basis for stabilizing consumption and some re-investment in cane. The centrality of incomediversification for simple reproduction and limited accumulation has rendered the dynamics of social differentiation to be both unstable and reversible, and has closely tied sustained cane production to the labour content of non-cane income sources. Meanwhile, with less direct oversight in production, millers face the challenge of retaining their implicit „grab‟ on customary land, throwing into relief the contradictions inherent in attempts „from above‟ to foster a nominal „peasant‟ class „from below‟.