BANCABC has set aside $16 million for the 2017 /2018 sugarcane production season in the Lowveld, as the financial services group consolidates its presence in this previously under-serviced but critical sector.
Already, BancABC has ploughed $21 million in sugarcane production in the last four years, benefiting about 500 farmers who have average farm sizes of between 10 and 20 hectares. BancABC managing director Joe Sibanda, told The Herald Business in emailed responses that some of the farmers supported in the past have boosted production.
"We have set aside an additional $15,6 million for the 2017/ 2018 season. The figure will vary from one season to the next driven by farmers' requirements for inputs and capital expenditure. "Performance has been mixed with some farmers excelling and yet others not doing so well," said Mr Sibanda.
Some of the farmers have achieved upwards of 100 tonnes per hectare while a few others have produced below average. On the whole, the BancABC sugarcane farming project has resulted in average yields rising from about 23 tonnes per hectare in 2011 to 72 tonnes per ha in the 2014/ 2016 seasons despite erratic rains. BancABC wishes to support more sugarcane farmers but is being shackled by the scourge of non-performing loans. Mr Sibanda said it is impossible to eliminate NPLs, but they can only be managed.
"What is important is to try and limit the risk. Banking by its very nature involves taking some risks and we will continue to support the productive sectors of the economy but in a manner that ensures we also protect depositors' funds by taking appropriate mitigatory measures. We have come up with a model that ensures this.
"As an example, we have retained the services of expert cane managers and monitors to support any farmer who may need their services to improve yields. This not only helps the farmer but also means the incidence of potential NPLs in the bank is minimised," said Mr Sibanda.
BancABC's investment in sugarcane growing presents it an opportunity to expand its loan book, especially considering that it has brought on stream one of the previously financially excluded sectors. Mr Sibanda said financial inclusion has recently become a major focus area but BancABC had already embraced it, hence the support rendered to small-scale farmers as part of efforts to empower society.
The move is also expected to improve living standards of people in the Lowveld through employment creation, while at the same time guaranteeing improved sugar production in the country. The sugarcane sector has been liberalised following the agrarian reforms that Government embarked upon at the turn of the millennium, resulting in the birth of several small-scale farmers. This has broken the dominance of a privileged small minority that owned and operated pieces of land in the Lowveld.