Exploring the complexity of sugarcane supply chains via systemic approaches

Sandra Hildbrand (Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus, Durban, South Africa and Oberfinanzdirektion Karlsruhe Landwirtschaft und Bodenschätzung Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, Germany)
Shamim Bodhanya (Graduate School of Business and Leadership, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa)


ISSN: 0368-492X

Publication date: 6 February 2017



This paper aims to explore the complexity that characterises sugarcane production and supply systems by applying soft systems methodology (SSM) and the viable system model (VSM) based on an interpretive systemic approach. It seeks to understand the extent to which these methodologies may assist in exploring such a complexity.


SSM and VSM were combined with qualitative research methods to explore two sugarcane production and supply systems’ potential improvement possibilities.


Trust, transparency and communication shortcomings, poor miller–grower relationships, deficient systemic commitment, insular view, milling inefficiencies, sugarcane quality, quantity and consistency shortcomings, the industry setup and the lack of a common driver are core issues. SSM and VSM facilitated a thorough understanding, yet could not address detected deficiencies.

Research limitations/implications

The research was restricted to two milling areas, and only SSM and VSM were applied.

Practical implications

Presented findings can be used as a basis to facilitate improvement in sugarcane production and supply systems and to advocate the continuity of holistic considerations.


Neither SSM nor VSM have been applied in the sugar industry context. The sugarcane production and supply systems have been holistically investigated, and soft issues have been considered.



Hildbrand, S. and Bodhanya, S. (2017), "Exploring the complexity of sugarcane supply chains via systemic approaches", Kybernetes, Vol. 46 No. 2, pp. 310-329. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-05-2014-0094

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