President, MPs should agree on Sugar Bill

Monday April 6 2020

 

By Kenneth Musinga Barungi

The continuing impasse between the President and the parliamentarians on the Sugar Bill is bad news for this economy and is mainly a result of perception.

The President’s view point is macro-economic; he aims to sustain national production and competitiveness in the EAC region, while MPs look at the micro-economics i.e. attendant farmers’ displeasures and local politics. Until both parties stand on the same hilltop, they will never see the same landscape.

Since the first time the Sugar Bill was passed by Parliament, the stakeholders urged the President not to assent to it until the following questions were addressed: - (a) the ethical, moral and economic aspects in the sugar industry that were a genesis of the current crisis; (b) food insecurity in the Busoga sub-region and the neighbouring communities; (c) costs of production and negative impacts on farmer revenue; (d) reduced aggregate production and revenue loss to established millers; (e) loss of tax revenue to Government; and (f) breach of contracts by parties in sugarcane trading.
This time around, the stakeholders expected MPs to deliberate with a discerning mind on the above matters and formulate suitable recommendations before returning the bill to the President in its original form.

One contention is mill zoning. The sugar mill distances is best exemplified by Tanzania where the demand for more sugar necessitated additional plantations. The established factories of Mtibwa and Kilombero are now sandwiching a new one, Kilosa, at 100km from each of the two old factories.

The National Sugar Policy formulated 20 years ago was mindful of these reasons and it provided specific sustainability measures for the industry – which were ignored to the country’s detriment.
Rather than hiding behind the Sugar Bill, the MPs and local leaders can effectively sort out farmers’ discontent by removing middlemen from sugarcane trading, directing sub-county chiefs to witness land lease agreements between peasants and cane growers, providing information and logistics to households regarding alternative crops, among others.

Regulation of these common causes of confusion can be made through Local Government Ordinances.

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Farmers have perceived that there is sugarcane over-supply but this mainly stems from harvesting cane at less than 18 months and they have resolved to convert this cane to jaggery.

MPs have now spent time debating jaggery and induced the trade ministry officials to visit Kamuli to respond to an outcry over abuse of farmers. There are alternatives products that are beneficial to this country other than jaggery, for example ethanol. Ethanol is a biofuel.

Uganda’s urban population of four million people depend on charcoal and wood for cooking and therefore are responsible for cutting down over 100,000 hectares of vegetation cover annually.

Ethanol burned in stoves is a perfect substitute for charcoal.

Bugosa sugarcane farmers can make ethanol directly from sugarcane juice.
If MPs continue to disregard important factors in the National Sugar Policy or such questions as raised by stakeholders, the President’s position to reject an incomplete law is strengthened.

Mr Birungi is a sugar expert.

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