Sugarcane farmers abandon fields due to lack of markets
While the sugarcane sector has the potential to empower stakeholders along the value chain, farmers have abandoned their fields for other income-generating activities, writes YUDAYA NANGONZI.
Currently, sugar production has declined amidst increasing demand from consumers and fluctuating prices, with the majority of millers operating below capacity. In a study conducted by the Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) on the sector, Dr Swaibu Mbowa, the lead researcher, attributed the massive exodus of cane growers to lack of markets and a decline in cane prices while other farmers have already replaced cane with food crops.
The increasing levels of poverty in cane-growing districts have also forced farmers to rethink the crop. In Uganda, about 29,000 farming households engage in cane production with an estimated 640,000 labourers. More households took up the business between 2012 and 2021 with at least 40,000 households, at one point, growing cane between 2005 and 2021.
“By the time we collected data in November-December 2021, this number had declined to about 29,000. This indicates that 28 per cent of out- growers had abandoned cane growing, with the highest attrition rate (33.8%) occurring in the Busoga sub-region,” Mbowa said.
This implies that one in every three cane farmers in Busoga has abandoned the business. Currently, Busoga has 20,474 growers while 10,475 stopped growing cane. In the Buganda region, the research shows that there are 4,394 growers and 522 farmers out of the business. In Bunyoro, 367 farmers joined other activities, leaving 3,801 active growers.
Mbowa presented the daunting figures at the recent 10th national Forum on Agriculture and Food Security held at Sheraton hotel in Kampala. The forum was organized by the EPRC in collaboration with Michigan State University and the International Food Policy Research Institute under the auspices of the Food Security Policy Research, Capacity and Influence.
Themed “Revisiting Policy, Institutional and Regulatory Arrangements in Uganda’s Sugarcane Sector”, the forum intended to stimulate debate on how to strengthen and improve the implementation of the sugarcane policy and regulatory frameworks to foster sustainable transformation in Uganda.
“MILLERS FAILING FARMERS”
Worldwide, sugar factory ownership is a mix between the government and the private sector. For Uganda, ownership is largely private with the government owning a lesser stake in the Atiak Sugar factory after selling its shares in Kinyara Sugar Factory in 2017.
This arrangement, farmers argued, has forced many to collapse as millers suffocate the sector. As of 2020, there were 33 licensed mills, with a combined milling capacity of 71,850 tonnes per day.
However, by December 2021, only 12 mills in the study sub-regions were operational and out-growers sold more cane to mainly established large millers who have disproportionate power over sugarcane price determination.
Mbowa noted that existing millers acquired new licenses in different jurisdictions to forestall other players from establishing milling plants in the same area. This could explain why there are fewer operational mills than those licensed.
The negative free-fall in sugarcane prices worsened the situation. For instance, a tonne of cane that cost Shs 175,000, Shs 162,000, and Shs 135,000 in Buganda, Busoga, and Bunyoro in 2017 has since dropped to Shs 95,282, Shs 92,782, and Shs 97,907 respectively.
Speaking to The Observer on the sidelines of the forum, a cane out-grower and director of the sugarcane value chain at Operation Wealth Creation, Kabakumba Labwoni Masiko, agreed that prices are illogically fixed by millers.
“We may look at millers as competitors in business but it’s not the case during price determination. Unlike in the past when millers would negotiate with farmers or their association, today, you find the price fixed on their notice board. Surprisingly, cane is the only crop where prices don’t vary much across the country. What does that mean?” Kabakumba asked.
Due to the price inconsistencies, some farmers have been forced to cut the cane for other activities since millers were also taking longer to buy it at fair prices.
“Today, there’s scarcity of cane. Millers are looking for cane in vain and that cyclical nature of operation by hurting farmers is catching up with them and the entire sugar sector,” she said.
The farmers also faulted millers for infiltrating their organization to ensure that they remain weak and the introduction of cane harvesting permits has created a black market for them, especially in Buganda to the detriment of farmers.
The manager of Kayunga Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative Society, Semeo Mugenyi, urged the government to regulate how far millers can go in expanding their nucleus to reduce competition with farmers.
“The primary role of an investor is to give economic opportunities to the local people. If the investor takes half of the supply, then it limits potential farmers on their supply,” Mugenyi said, adding that without a sugar mill managed by farmers as promised by President Museveni, cane farmers will continue to be exploited or exit the sector.
The study findings call for urgent discussions among government and sector stakeholders on the future of the sugarcane sector. In particular, the study points to the need for the constitution of the sugar board, as recommended by the Sugar Act 2020 to oversee the sector. Mbowa said the inclusion of out-growers in the cane sector is “the primary means by which it can contribute to increases in rural farm household incomes, food security, and rural employment in cane-growing areas.”
To date, the 2010 Sugar Policy and the Sugar Act of 2022 are not operational. David Kiiza, a senior industrial officer at the ministry of Trade, said the government has made strides in organizing the sector but remains constrained by inadequate funds.
“We wrote to stakeholders and they sent us their nominations but the ministry of Finance said it has no money for setting up the board. They [Finance] told us to make a supplementary budget of Shs 2bn [to set up the board] but they have told us to wait. Most likely, the money will be availed in the next financial year,” Kiiza said.
He added: “The ministry of Trade has already held a meeting with millers and we plan to schedule one for the out-growers and later meet them all in one meeting to agree how to set up the board as we await funds from the government. By the end of this year, we expect the Act to be reviewed.”
In the meantime, Kabakumba urged the traditional big millers to graduate into the production of refined industrial sugar as Uganda has brown sugar in surplus. This would provide the much-needed market for the farmers of sugarcane as well as more employment opportunities for small millers dealing in brown sugar.
Source: The Observer
Falling coffee prices, reduced output forecasts rattle Uganda farmers
There has been a slump in international coffee prices and shipping costs in the last quarter of 2022
Uganda’s coffee industry is walking into a challenging 2023 defined by falling prices and diminished output forecasts following the recent dry spell that hit major growing areas.
While the sector enjoyed a boom between 2020 and 2022 – with surging coffee prices, rising export volumes and considerable incomes for farmers – decline in international shipping costs and improved production forecasts in Brazil triggered a slump in coffee prices in the last quarter of 2022, according to industry players.
International shipping costs dropped from record highs of $10,000 per container charged on certain sea routes in January 2022 to less than $2,000. Shipping fees charged per 20-foot container ferried from Indonesia to North America, for example, are estimated at $800-$1,000 currently.
Consequently, local and international coffee prices have dropped since October 2022.
International robusta coffee prices fell from an average price of $2,400 per tonne to $1,856 per tonne towards the end of last year, according to industry data. Local robusta coffee prices declined from Ush7,200 ($1.9) per kilogramme to Ush5,800 ($1.6) per kilogramme during the second half of 2022 while Arabica coffee prices fell from Ush11,000 ($2.9) per kilogramme to Ush8,000 ($2) per kilogramme in the period.
In 2021, average coffee prices stood at more than Ush15,000 ($4) per kilogramme.
Robusta coffee production accounts for more than 60 percent of Uganda’s overall coffee output.
Besides gloomy coffee price forecasts for 2023, a severe dry spell in the past six months could pose a huge threat to coffee production levels. The weather affected major coffee-growing areas like the Central region and risks cutting this year’s output to around 5.5 million bags, industry players forecast.
“Brazil and Vietnam are headed for a bumper coffee harvest this year while India and Indonesia have discounted their local coffee prices in a way that has undercut Uganda’s growth momentum on the international market,” said Robert Byaruhanga, chief executive of local exporter Funzo Coffee Ltd.
Asian and Latin American coffee exporters are regaining dominance in European and North American markets after the lockdown period because of the lower coffee prices, reduced freight charges, shorter port clearance turnaround times and reasonable coffee quality grades, Byaruhanga explained.
Ugandan farmers are now holding onto their coffee produce in anticipation of better prices.
Overall coffee exports stood at 6.26 million bags valued at $862.28 million in 2021/22 compared to 6.08 million bags worth $559.16 million registered in 2020/21, data from the Uganda Coffee Development Authority shows.
An estimated 447,162. 60 kilogramme bags of coffee valued at $64.1 million were exported in November 2022 at an average price of $2.39 per kilogramme — 6 US cents lower than the average price of $2.45 per kilogramme posted in October 2022.
Original Source: Daily Monitor
Over 40 goats die of PPR disease in Madi-Okollo
At least 43 goats have died of Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) disease, also known as ‘goat plague’ and several others are undergoing treatment in Madi-Okollo district.
Madi-Okollo district veterinary officer, Dr Charles Onzima, says the viral disease, which is related to rinderpest in sheep as well as goats, has claimed the lives of goats in Olali parish in Ogoko sub-county.
He adds that PPR disease was confirmed in the district after 500 local and 94 Boer goats were supplied to families in Olali parish under a poverty eradication programme that he suspects infected the local goats.
43 of the boar goats died while 10 of the local goats of the communities also died of PPR disease.
Onzima says immediately after receiving information about the disease, the veterinary officers got the goats manifesting the signs of PPR that include sudden onset of depression, fever, discharge from the eyes and nose, sores in the mouth, breathing difficulty and death among others.
He says that they have already had three rounds of vaccination for the available goats in the affected area.
Original Source: New Vision Via harvestmoney.co.ug
Artisanal gold miners defy government on mercury use
In October, President Museveni signed into the law the Mining and Minerals Act 2022. One of the key provisions in the law is the banning of mercury use in mining activities.
Artisanal and small scale gold miners in Uganda use mercury to separate gold from the ores, a method they say is cost effective, fast and easy to use. During this process, mercury is mixed with gold containing materials to form a mercury gold amalgam which is then heated to obtain the gold from the sediments.
The miners do the processing without wearing any personal protective gear. However, different Non- Government and Civil Society Organizations have over the years warned these miners against using mercury as it poses serious health threats to human life and dangerous to the environment.
But even with the government banning the use of mercury and several warning about the dangers it imposes, gold miners are not yet ready to stop using the substance especially since the government is not providing any viable alternative method they can use.
In Tiira mining site, Tiira town council, Busia district, gold miners expressed their concerns on this ban. Stephen Engidhoh, the Eastern Uganda chairman of Uganda Association of Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (UGAASM) said that mining has created jobs for over 30,000 people in Busia alone and with the government ban on use of mercury, many of them are likely to remain jobless.
He noted that in every sub county in Busia district, there are people during the exploration of minerals but the large gold discoveries here should not be an excuse to eliminate the small-scale miners from the mining sector because these minerals belong to all of them and it where they make a living from.
He added that if government wants this directive to be implemented, it should enforce it gradually and after finding an alternative method the miners can use.
“Government should first sensitize the miners about the dangers of using mercury before eliminating it. By government coming to abruptly ban the use of mercury, it is already creating indirect employment for smugglers to smuggle it into the country than they think they are eliminating,” Engidoh said.
Paul Angesu, the chairman on Tiira Landlords and Artisanal Miners Association said that even though they have been told that mercury is dangerous, for all the years they have used, they have never seen anyone experiencing the danger they say it causes.
“The government still needs to carry out thorough investigations on the possible dangers of using mercury so that it presents to the local miners with practical evidence that indeed mercury is dangerous and this will make us to easily stop using it,” Angesu said.
He added that sometime back, the Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH) came and took samples of mercury from the miners but they were not able to submit in the feedback for them to know if indeed they are indeed being affected by mercury.
An alternative gold extraction method which has been suggested to the artisanal gold miners is the use of borax method’ a technique of artisanal gold mining which use borax (a chemical compound) as a flux to purify gold. However, the miners say the government has not taken the initiative of introducing this method to them and training them on how to use it.
“They want us to use borax as an alternative to mercury but most of us don’t even know how borax looks like or even how it works. How do they expect us to start using something they have never taken the initiative to introduce to us?” Angesu asked.
Ramadhan Birenge, a gold miner in Namayingo district has tried using borax before after an NGO brought a sample of it to them. He however said that there is no any another way a miner can use to get gold clearly and quickly other than using mercury.
“The borax they are telling us to use is very expensive and not easily accessible to us, we don’t even know where it is sold and to get gold through using borax is a very long process yet mercury is a very easy, shorter process and relatively cheap.”
John Bosco Bukya, the chairman of Uganda Artisanal Miners Association told The Observer that they are law abiding citizens and since they have tested the consequences of operating in irregularities, they have no big problem with banning of mercury use in mining areas.
But however, before government bans it, it should provide the miners with an alternative processing reagent. He noted that government may not succeed with the ban and not because the miners don’t want to stop using mercury, but because the available alternatives must be effective, efficient and affordable.
“We don’t know anything about the borax method which they say can be an alternative. We don’t know where it is manufactured from, neither its cost or effectiveness. Government should first train the miners of an alternative method, test its effectiveness and efficiency before banning the method currently being used. If it is more efficient, definitely miners will stop using mercury,” Bukya said.
He also advised government to first sensitize these miners about the dangers of mercury before enforcing it and then phase it out gradually and not immediately because it is going to affect the livelihoods of Ugandans who are in this sector and yet it is the responsibility of government to make sure that all Ugandans thrive in their businesses.
Mercury is smuggled into Uganda through the porous borders with Kenya by cartels which makes its trade illegal. It is then discreetly sold to artisanal miners in Busia with a Kg costing between Shs 600,000 to Shs 1 million.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to mercury, even small amounts may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes as well as pose a threat to the development of the child in the womb for pregnant women.
Most of these ailments manifest over time. People who burn the gold usually take in large doses of mercury because they directly inhale the metals but those who may get it after eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with mercury take it in slowly and it accumulates over time.
Mercury also contaminates the soil making it infertile and unable to support agriculture, water and air. Mercury emitted to the air can also circulate around and contaminate water, fish and wildlife far from the mine from which it was released which affects the biodiversity.
Original Source: The Observer
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