Farmers up in arms over sugarcane census

Truck loaded with sugarcane heads to a factory in Mayuge District in May 2024.  PHOTO/TAUSI NAKATO

What you need to know:

  • Mr Godfrey Naitema, one of the large-scale farmers in Busoga Sub-region, said he disagrees with the census because it has an indirect zoning element in it.

Sugarcane farmers have opposed the verification exercise of sugarcane plantations on grounds that the government is aiming to introduce zoning in the sector. 

The Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives is in preparations to kick-start the verification exercise of sugarcane nucleus estates and register cane outgrowers in Uganda. 

The Senior Information Communication Technology Officer at the ministry, Ms Mary Amumpaire, said the exercise is intended to collect accurate data about sugarcane growing in Uganda.

“We need to get accurate data on available sugarcane in the country and other details like the number of farmers involved in sugarcane growing,” she said.

Ms Amumpaire further said the sugarcane census will be conducted by the ministry in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Local Government.

“The exercise is still in preparation,” she said. 

The verification exercise, which is supposed to be conducted in three sub-regions of Busoga, Buganda and Bunyoro,  also aims to streamline the operation of the sugar millers, address the challenges associated with cane growing and supply to factories, and adherence to good business practices.

The Chairperson of Uganda Sugarcane Outgrowers Association, Mr Isa Budhugo, said they are not happy with the exercise because it is allegedly aimed at introducing zoning in a different form.

“They have not yet briefed me about the aim of the census but I am aware that they will be collecting data by attaching farmers to a specific mill. Farmers will not be allowed to supply to any other factory apart from that which they are attached to. I don’t like the zoning issue but I am okay with the data,” he said. 

The millers have been agitating for zoning of a 25-kilometre radius between mills, with not more than one mill in a zone having outgrowers in that area supplying sugarcane to it.

Mr David Christopher Mombwe, the general secretary of Busoga Sugarcane Outgrowers Association, said the government should not only count sugarcane but also cattle.

“In Ankole, they have many cattle but they have never counted them. Why are they rushing with counting sugarcane in Busoga? Before the government counts the sugarcane, it should also count cattle,” he said.

Mr Mombwe said the government should first sensitise the farmers on the aim of the sugarcane census before kick-starting it. 

“We have not been sensitised about the exercise and don’t know where it is coming from and its motive. They are just throwing us the programme from nowhere. I am now mandated to explain to farmers things I don’t understand,’’ he said. 

Mr Godfrey Naitema, one of the large-scale farmers in Busoga Sub-region, said he disagrees with the census because it has an indirect zoning element in it.

“If they want to count with an aim of establishing a market for farmers, it is very okay but if it aims to bring in zoning, I completely disagree with it,” he said. 

Ms Justine Naigaga, one of the sugarcane farmers in Jinja  District, said the government is aiming at taxing sugarcane farmers, which is not unfair.

“We shall not accept this census because taxing us means kicking us out of the business. If it is to count sugarcane, it should also count matooke, coffee, cotton, and other crops,” she said.