Busoga farmers sell sugarcane as firewood

A woman uses sugarcane as firewood in Mawoito Village, Kakira Town Council in Jinja District last week. PHOTO | PHILIP WAFULA

What you need to know:

  • Sugarcane farmers have been chasing permits since 2005 when Mayuge Sugar Industries (MSI) was allowed to set up and run a sugar mill despite protests from Kakira Sugar. 
  • Kakira Sugar claimed MSI did not have a nucleus estate to match its own crushing capacity and that it was setting up camp near its own mills in breach of a stakeholders’ policy of exclusive zoning, which prohibits other companies from opening up mills within a 20-kilometre radius of an existing mill.

Sugarcane farmers in Busoga Sub-region have resorted to selling their cane to residents as firewood due to lack of market.

Farmers who Daily Monitor spoke to at the weekend, said some of them fail to supply their sugarcane to milling companies because they do not have permits to do so. 

“After a farmer has been disappointed by a colleague with a permit, through whom he hoped to channel his cane for sale, it is left in the field for up to a month, after which it dries up and is eventually sold cheaply as firewood,” a farmer, who declined to be named, said at the weekend.

Even  those with permits are currently having challenges selling their sugarcane because some milling companies, such as Kakira Sugar Works Ltd, have closed for routine maintenance.

The farmers also claim that landlords do not give them enough time to find market for their sugarcane, forcing them to sell the cane as firewood.

However, even when farmers get buyers for their sugarcane, they complain about low prices.

Mr Wilson Moga, a local council official, told Daily Monitor that when the prices of sugarcane dropped drastically, many outgrowers became frustrated and lost interest in the crop.

“I know outgrowers who deliberately left their cane in the field to dry and currently, most of it is being sold as firewood,” he said.

Those who buy the sugarcane from the farmers usually pay them as little as Shs60,000 per tonne, Shs36,000 less than the market value. 

Ms Hawa Mutesi, a member of NAIRO local distillers, a group consisting 150 members, said they use sugarcanes for cooking and distilling local gin (waragi).

“Farmers who complained of low sugarcane prices and outgrowers whose cane has been rejected for lack of permits sell their cane to us as firewood,” she said.

She added that most of the sugarcane comes from Mawoito, Kabembe and Kagogwa villages.

Ms Mutesi said using sugarcane is cheaper than firewood, adding that turning one drum of molasses into waragi requires dry sugarcane that costs Shs9,000 compared to Shs15,000 while using firewood.

Mr Jim Kabeho, the chairman of Kakira Sugar Works Ltd, Sugar Corporation of Lugazi Ltd (Scoul) and Kinyara Sugar Mills, told Daily Monitor last week that they had suspended issuing of permits because there is no production going on.

On alleged issuance of permits to politicians instead of bonafide sugarcane farmers, Mr Kabeho said: “What is wrong with issuing permits to politicians who are registered (sugarcane) farmers?”

He added: “The system is computerised and whoever masquerades as a farmer doesn’t get paid for their cane.”

Mr Francis Baganzi, the spokesperson of Mayuge and Kamuli sugar companies, said a farmer has to apply for a permit and wait for the mills to arrange for inspection. 

He, however, added that the process is tiresome because there are many people in the queue.

“All factories are now expanding their milling capacity; so it (permit issue) will be sorted soon; it is a temporary condition, but it will be okay after a while,” he said.

The genesis

Sugarcane farmers have been chasing permits since 2005 when Mayuge Sugar Industries (MSI) was allowed to set up and run a sugar mill despite protests from Kakira Sugar. 

Kakira Sugar claimed MSI did not have a nucleus estate to match its own crushing capacity and that it was setting up camp near its own mills in breach of a stakeholders’ policy of exclusive zoning, which prohibits other companies from opening up mills within a 20-kilometre radius of an existing mill.

GM Sugar’s decision to open its mill in Lugazi II Village, Njeru Municipality, Buikwe District, complicated matters as some of the farmers who had been contracted by both Kakira Sugar and the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd started reneging on their contractual obligations and supply cane to both companies. Kakira Sugar was concerned that the entry of MSI would exacerbate the poaching of sugarcane from more of their contracted farmers, which would in the long run plunge the sugar industry into further conflict. Sugarcane plantations are the economic pulse of the sub-region that holds more than 50 per cent of the country sugar milling factories

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