Millers boost machine capacity  to grow sugar export volumes  

Kakira Sugar General Manager Peter Van Greunen (right), and Mr Jim Mwine Kabeho, the Madhvani Group executive director, address a media briefing in Kakira Town Council, Jinja District. Photo / Phillip Wafula 

What you need to know:

  • According to the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association, millers were exporting 150,000 tonnes of sugar, but it reduced to 30,000 tonnes

Sugar milers have installed machine capacity to boost export volumes, which had significantly reduced by 80 percent due to shortage of sugarcane.

Mr Jim Mwine Kabeho, the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association chairperson, says they were exporting 150,000 tonnes of sugar about two years ago, but it reduced to 30,000 tonnes, while the local market consumed about 400,000 tonnes.

The drop in export volumes, he said, was due to shortage of sugarcane, which he described as “a long-term challenge in the sugar sector”, which forced all factories, especially last year, to run at half capacity.

However, manufacturers have now increased installed machine capacity to produce more than one million tonnes annually, with focus now increasing export volumes. 

“The installed capacity of factories currently can produce 1.2 million tonnes of sugar annually,” Mr Kabeho said in an interview at the weekend, noting that shortage of cane creates weighbridges run by unqualified people who determine what cane to take, which results into cheating farmers.

“The many new weighbridges coming up in Busoga sub-region are killing us and have crushed yields. Farmers’ yields are around 50 tonnes per hectare instead of 110 or 120 hectares. We, therefore, can’t get a good price when our yields are half what they should be,”  he said.  

Also, the lack of regulation, Mr Kabeho said, remains a problem in the sugar sector, adding that they have fought to get a Sugar Board in the Sugar Act (2020), but has not been granted, which forced them to shift to a Sugar Council.

“The Sugar Council would cause an amendment to the Sugar Act (2020), and in 2023, the amendment went to Parliament before being deferred early this year. We are still fighting to get it back so that it can be considered to produce a Sugar Council made up of both stakeholders from the sugar industry and coordinating government ministries, including farmers, millers and the ministries,” he said. 

Mr Kabeho said having a Sugar Council is necessary to manage the industry, control farmers’ and millers’ actions, and address climate change by irrigation, and smart farming among others.

Earlier, Mr Kabeho, who is also the Madhvani Group executive director, had addressed a recent incident involving a recording of underweight bags of sugar from Kakira Sugar. 

The four-minute video, which was said to have been recorded in a supermarket in Soroti on June 13, examined 10 bags of 50 kilogremmes that weighed between 47 and 48 kilogrammes. 

Mr Kabeho said they were still investigating how this happened but also cited “sabotage”, by people, he did not name, who use known branded bags to repackage and sell sugar manufactured elsewhere, noting that cases have been filed implicating drivers of some distributors, who are now on the run. 

Underweight sugar 

Mr Peter Van Greunen, the Kakira Sugar general manager, said they had confirmed that the underweight bags originated from their stores, with proper stitching, serial numbers, and Digital Tax Stamps. 

However, he said, when they were inspected, it was discovered that all the inner liners had holes, indicating that sugar had been drawn out after the bags were sealed.

“The weight slips from our sugar weighbridge showed no variation, confirming that the bags left our facility with correct weight,” he said, noting that their investigation concluded that the tampering occurred after the sugar had been delivered out of their stores. 

“This is supported by the fact that all pre-dispatch checks, including auto weighing scales, warehouse weighing, and exit weighbridge weighing, showed no discrepancies. Our weighing scales were calibrated in May 2024 to ensure accuracy,” he added.

Mr Kamlesh Madhvani, the Kakira Sugar managing director, said they have no control of bags once they leave the factory, describing the incident as “regrettable”.

“We have been around for more than 100 years and have no reputation of cheating. When we see something like this, it is disturbing,” he said.