Sugar cane growing is a new trade in Busoga Sub-region which many people have embarrassed, unfortunately many prefer to grow sugar cane than grow food. Leadership Magazine journalists visited sugar cane farmers in Namulikya village, Bugaya sub-county in Buyende district and discussed the current situation.
In November 2011, the government of Uganda licensed a number of sugar manufacturers besides, the big three; Kakira Sugar Works, Sugar corporation of Uganda limited and Kinyara sugar works. The new manufacturers were to help address the sugar deficit that had hit the country. Some of the new sugar manufacturers include, Amuru Sugar Works Limited, Atiak Sugar Factory, Bugiri Sugar Company, Busia Sugar Limited, Hoima Sugar Limited, Kamuli Sugar Limited, Kenlon Industries Uganda Limited, Kyankwanzi Sugar Works Limited, Mayuge Sugar Industries Limited, Mukwano Sugar Factory, Ndiburungi Sugar Works Limited, Seven Star Sugar Limited, Sezibwa Sugar Limited, Buikwe Sugar Works Limited, Sugar & Allied Industries Limited-Kaliro and Uganda Farmers Crop Industries Limited.
All these manufacturers need raw materials to run the factories, however, many are unable to produce their own, so they rely on the farmers.
In 2007, the government was determined to give away up to 7,000 hectares of Mabira Central Forest Reserve to expand its sugarcane production operations to Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL). This was a clear sign that SCOUL was not producing enough raw material for the production of Sugar and they needed more land.
Many critics thought that it was not wise for government to give out the forest reserve, but instead encourage many farmers with land to get involved in growing sugar canes to serve the manufacturers, while indirectly creating jobs for the people.
After the Mabira saga, the Amuru Saga set in with many people in Amuru not ready to give out their land to Madhvani for sugar production. The Daily Monitor in the article “The Madivani quest for Amoro land” that ran in July 2013 is quoted reading parts, “a dialogue on land and investment in the Acholi sub-region, held in Gulu, undercurrents of a proposal made by the Madhvani sugar barons in 2006 to secure 40,000 hectares of land in Lakang Village, Amuru District, were palpable.” The Madhvani Group wanted to establish a sugar cane estate, with backers of the project, especially government officials, arguing that the land in Acholi, after years without being tilled, is fertile and suitable for farming. However, the project was greeted with scepticism by local politicians, who pointed at potential sinister reasons on the side of the government. This has not stopped the sugar manufacturers from going on with their investments. Not one or two sugar manufactures in Acholi land,
Busoga region has the biggest number of sugar manufacturers totalling to six. The farmers in Busoga have seen potential in switching to sugar cane farming rather than sticking to maize, beans and other food crops. The farmers of Busoga would rather grow sugar cane which they will sell at a good price rather than grow food crops that will not earn them much. A group of farmers said the farmers in Busoga have joined sugar cane farming in order to fight poverty that is eating up the region. Those who don’t have enough land get loans from banks to lease land for sugar cane growing.
Denis Baraka, a sugar cane farmer in Namulikya village Bugaya Sub-county in Buyende district said not everybody in Busoga is growing sugar cane. He said the people growing sugar canes are those who can afford it and are not using all their land for sugar cane growing. Baraka has three sugar cane plantations: 37 acres in Namulikya, and 8 acres in Bulopa village in Luuka district. He has leased all the three pieces of land he is growing the sugar cane on. Baraka added that people who are growing sugar canes are using only half of their land and the other half is being used for growing food. Baraka noted that he has just joined the sugar cane growing business.
Previously, he would buy the sugar canes from the farmers but he was not meeting the target he wanted. He therefore decided to lease out a piece of land and begin growing the canes himself. He expects to earn good money when he harvests next year, something he would not get if he planted maize or beans. “Many people are joining sugar cane growing because they have lost income generating crops, Previously, people grew maize for sale but the price was so low, a kilo went for shs.500 discouraging many farmers. If we continue growing maize, our children will not go to school and we shall remain poor. Sugar cane has a big market at the moment that is why many people are growing it while others even export it to Kenya improving their finances and also fighting poverty,” Denis explained. He added he does not have big land in Busoga but he has leased all the land he is growing the sugar cane on. Baraka said the person who leased out the land to him in Namulikya has other pieces of land where he grows food.
Baraka disagrees with people who are saying that many sugar cane growers in Busoga have preferred sugar cane to food crops. He said that there is a lot of food in Busoga and people are just engaged in cane growing for money. He added that even the person growing sugar cane on one acre has another half-acre he has reserved for growing food. He is also sure that many sugarcane growers in Busoga are intercropping the sugarcane with food crop before the canes are three months. He added that he intercropped maize within all the sugar cane gardens and he has harvested 25 bags of maize. Baraka said that sugar canes have a ready market in Busoga. He also added that many people in Busoga have acquired jaggery machines. The people who cannot sell their sugar canes to the manufacturers can make jaggery and molasses out of them which they easily sell in Lira, Soroti and Kiboga at a better price without incurring transportation costs to the factories. He notes that, the new developments of acquiring jaggery machines is the reason leading people to cane farming rather than food production. He added that he has twenty-five bags of maize which he is not selling until the price goes up to shs 1000.
Baraka also added that they would rather grow food for home consumption only and grow sugar cane for income generating. He said a kilo of maize was at shs 500 last year yet a ton of sugar cane was sold at shs110,000 or shs 120,000 depending on where one sells them. He noted that in the previous years, Busoga region was famous for maize and other foods because the demand for sugar canes was not there at all and Kakira sugar works was producing enough sugarcane for themselves but now, Busoga region alone has a sugar manufacturer in every district and they don’t have enough raw materials to feed their factories. Another farmer, Mukembo Haruna agrees with Baraka that people in Busoga are into sugar cane growing to fight poverty, educate children and also build houses. He said it is not true that farmers in Busoga are only concentrating on growing sugar canes because they preserve some land for food production.
Mukembo says that once someone does not have enough land, they acquire leased land to grow sugar cane. He added that it is only a person who does not care who would use all his land to grow sugar canes. He also noted that many people have intercropped maize and beans in the sugar cane gardens. He said his village Namulikya is well known for food production especially; water melons, cow peas, and other food crops.
The LC I chairman for Namulikya village, Mr. Mwogeza John is not happy with this new trade of sugar cane growing in his village which he thinks is diverting people’s attention from growing food. He thinks government should come up with a policy to regulate or stop sugar cane growing in Busoga because many people are only concerned about sugar canes and no one is bothered about growing food which is dangerous. “In two years, Busoga region will have a big problem of lack of food because many people are into sugar cane farming yet the money they get is not enough to pay school fees, buy food and also take care of home needs,” the disgruntled chairman cited. He said his village has over twenty sugar cane plantations belonging to farmers who are not residents of his village, but who have leased land from the residents of the village.
Mr. Mwogeza noted that people in his village are leasing their land out because they want money and they forget that they will need food in the years after. He is not happy because in the past, people would lease land out to people to grow food that would take a year after which the land is returned to the owner but now, they are leasing land out for seven years with nowhere to grow food. He noted that even animals are being sold off because of lack of grazing land. “In Budiope, we had some cows from which we sell milk to earn a living but now, sugar cane farmers have taken up the village so we have no grazing land. Many people have sold off their cows. I am worried that soon, my village members will join sugar cane growing because the seedlings are already in the village. We may end up like some other parts of Busoga. Government should come up with a policy to regulate sugar cane growing in Busoga before it’s too late,” Mr. Mwogeza said.
By Irene Lamunu
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