In the 1970s, SITFE’s focus broadened to include rural communities who had little or no access to formal schooling, as well as the training of the large pool of unskilled labour involved in the Sugar Industry. An initiative was launched in 1973, to promote SASA’s developing cane-growing members in rural and peri-urban areas. The goal of the programme was to enable these communities to shift from a position of dependence to self-reliance.
This led to the development of three Farmers’ Centres in KwaZulu, where local growers could receive courses in sugar cane agriculture, economics and trade. This initiative set the precedent for numerous others, aimed at developing not only the skills and training of people in need, but also their social and economic upliftment. The Sugar Association continued to pioneer change and in 1974 a training centre was established in the heart of sugar land at Mount Edgecombe, the first multi-racial industrial institute of its kind in the country. 1975 saw SITFE assist 220 high school and training college students financially, as well as 40 students from the University of Zululand.
As the Trust gained momentum, its sphere of influence spread to areas such as Mpumalanga and the Northern Province, and in the former Transkei R10, 000 was allocated to the Department of Education for the provision of high school bursaries. Whilst the Trust continued to support the education sector, a key focus remained the upliftment of those in sugar-growing regions. In 1976, students from the Universities of Pretoria and Natal were awarded Agri-Engineering bursaries, as the Trust sought ways to ease the acute shortage of agricultural engineers in the country.
By 1977, the Bursary Scheme had paid out R350 000 to some 4000 Black students throughout the KwaZulu, Natal and Transkei regions. The Sugar Industry aided Black cane growers to become self-reliant, allocating R5 million to SITFE for this endeavour. Administration of the fund was decentralized, placing much of the decision-making in the hands of the local people, a focus on grassroots development that was revolutionary for its time. By 1979, Sugar Industry bursaries had assisted more than 1000 qualified teachers in Zulu schools in their teacher training.