Sugarcane growers farming are predominantly found in KwaZulu-Natal, as well as a large portion in Mpumalanga and some farming operations in the Eastern Cape. The industry produces an estimated average of 2,3 million tons of sugar per year, of which 40% are exported, produced from approximately 400 000 hectares of agricultural land, by crushing an average of 16 million tons of cane at 14 sugar mills [SASA, 2016]. Through their process approximately 7 million tonnes of bagasse (a by-product of sugar production) is burnt in to make steam from electricity generation and process heat [Haw & Hughes, 2007].

South Africa consistently ranks in the top 15 of 120 sugar producing countries worldwide. Approximately 75% of the area of sugarcane harvested in South Africa is dryland (relying on rainfall) and 25% is irrigated. It is a diverse industry combining the agricultural activities of sugar-cane cultivation with the industrial factory production of raw and refined sugar, syrups and specialised sugars, and a range of by-products [SASA, 2016].

Sugarcane consists of 15% fibre, 15% sugar and the remaining amount water. Once the sugar water has been removed from the cane, the remaining fibre known as bagasse, is burnt in boilers to produce steam and electricity to be used on site [van der Merwe, 2014].

Figure: Land use in South Africa [unknown]



The bulk of the world’s forests is natural forest, with reported natural forest area amounting to 93% of global forest area, or 3.7 billion ha, in 2015. In 2011 the annual wood removals amounted to 3.0 billion m3 globally, of which half were for woodfuel. There was a net loss of some 129 million ha of forest between 1990 and 2015, roughly the size of South Africa, representing an annual net loss rate of 0.13% [FAO, 2015a].


South Africa is lightly forested with a plantation area of approximately 1.35 million hectares [FES, 2004a], which represents 1.1% of the country’s land area and half of the plantations of the South African Development Community (SADC) countries, made up out of an equal share of hardwoods and softwood. The bulk of South Africa’s forestry plantations are located in Mpumalanga followed closely by KwaZulu-Natal. Other plantations are spread across the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and the Western Cape. Pine and eucalyptus are the predominant species in the South African forestry industry [Forestry SA, 2013; FAO, 2002; DAFF, 2013; Chamberlain et al, 2005].


Figure: Forests and plantations in South Africa [Timberwatch]


Chamberlain, D., Essop, H., Hougaard, C., Malherbe, S. & Walker, R. (2005) South African Forestry Market Analysis

Department Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (2013) South African Forest & Forest Products Industry Facts

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (2002) ‘Forestry Outlook Study for Africa Report’

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (2015a) ‘Global forest resource assessment 2015’

Forestry SA. (2013) ‘Forestry Facts for the year 2011/12’.

Haw, M. & Hughes, A. (2007), ‘Clean Energy and Development for South Africa: Background Data’, Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Petrie, Belynda (2014) ‘South Africa: A case for biomass’

South African Sugar Association (2016) ‘South African Sugar Industry: 2016’

van der Merwe, A., 2014. A State of Waste to Energy Research in South Africa, Pretoria: Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, South African – German Energy Programme (SAGEN), Renewable Energy Centre of Research and Development (RECORD).

Winkler, H. (ed) (2006) ‘Energy Policies for Sustainable Development in South Africa: Options for the future’.