The need for centralisation of research as a means of promoting efficient and economic development of sugar processing techniques is universally recognised and the establishment of such an institute for the South African sugar industry goes back to May 1946. After preliminary discussions involving the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Natal Sugar Millers’ Association – the forerunner of the present South African Sugar Millers’ Association NPC (SASMA) – and the University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal - UKZN) about the formation of an industrial research institute, the Sugar Milling Research Institute (SMRI) was registered as a non-profit making limited liability Company on 1 April 1948. The Certificate of Incorporation of the SMRI under the Companies Act was dated 4 August 1949, the date taken as the founding of the SMRI. The sugar industry was given the main responsibility of directing research to solve its own problems.
It was decided to erect new buildings to house the Institute on land leased [99 years for a once off payment of the princely sum of £0-1-0 (R0.10)] from the University of Natal (Durban campus). This placed the Institute conveniently in the heart of the sugar belt which stretches from Malelane in Mpumalanga (formerly the Eastern Transvaal) through KwaZulu-Natal to Port Shepstone on the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal (formerly Natal).
Dr K Douwes Dekker was appointed to the post of Director from 1 January 1949. The first monthly report, in February 1949, noted that "the Institute occupies one of the hutments of Howard College (i.e. the University of Natal, Durban). The building was subsequently extended twice (the original design including provision for such extensions) and now occupies three floors. A small part of the grounds was originally planted with sugarcane for use in experiments, but this was discontinued in the 1980s. The grounds are now planted with indigenous trees and shrubs as the SMRI is part of the UKZN conservancy.
The SMRI has subsequently had five directors: Dr Milo Matic, Dr Jaap Bruijn, Dr Bernard Ravno, Dr Brian Purchase and Dr Janice Dewar. Dr Dewar started as Director in January 2004, but her position was subsequently renamed to Chief Executive Officer, a position she still holds as current CEO.
Link to SMRI Introductory Video
The mission of the SMRI is to be a world-class research institute, supporting the southern African sugarcane processing industry in its goal of global competitiveness.
The institute commits to achieve this by providing:
International leadership in sugar science research;
Innovative, cost-effective solutions to cane and sugar processing and refining problems;
Development, optimisation and transfer of new technologies for competitive advantage;
Appropriate analytical, consulting, communication and information services;
State-of-the-art training for sugar technologists;
Challenging projects, recognition for achievement, and opportunities for continuous learning for its employees.
The institute is financed by a levy based on the
amount of sugar produced at its member factories, or at an agreed rate based on
the package of technical services offered as part of the particular membership
package selected by the member. It also receives income, primarily from
members, for ad hoc contract research and technical and training services
undertaken. Further, government funding is also received on an ad hoc basis for
competitive research projects. All research associated with the agricultural aspects of the cultivation of
sugarcane is handled separately by the South African Sugarcane Research
Institute (SASRI) at Mount Edgecombe. Through the South African Sugar
Association's (SASA) membership of the SMRI, a close working relationship is
maintained between SASRI and the SMRI.
The SMRI has a proud history of scientific and engineering excellence that it well respected in both the South African and international sugarcane industries. SMRI staff have won numerous awards at the Annual Congress of the South African Sugar Technologists' Association, including the following:
SASTA Gold Medal: Pam Morel du Boil, Dr Raoul Lionnet and Dr Brian Purchase
SASTA Jubilee Award: Lola Naidoo and Paul Jensen
Robin Renton Memorial Award (PGBI Prize): Paul Jensen and Prelene Naidoo
Factory Innovation Award: Solly Chinsamy
Talbot-Crosbie Prize for Best Factory Paper: at least 27 SMRI papers