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Sugarcane farmers abandon fields due to lack of markets

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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.

RECOMMENDATIONS

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

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Anti-tick vaccine drive gives hope to farmers

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Dairy farmers in Ankole Sub-region are optimistic that the anti-tick vaccine launched by the government will solve their problem of tick resistance to acaricides.
For the last 10 years, dairy farmers across the country have decried tick resistance to acaricides, which has been ravaging the livestock sector.

Mr Emmanuel Kyeishe, a resident of Rushere in Kiruhura District and dairy farmer with more than 100 head of cattle, says dairy farmers in the cattle corridor have battled the problem of tick resistance for a long time.
“The issue of ticks has been rampant in the cattle corridor to the extent of losing our cows. We spend a lot on treating them because of ticks since they infect animals with several diseases,”  he said.

Mr Kyeishe said he loses at least two cows every month to tick-borne diseases like East Coast Fever and heart water.
“I have lost 180 cows in the last five years due to ticks and tick-borne diseases. If they do not die, they get blind and some lose their skin. But if we get a vaccine, it will have saved us a lot,” he said.
Mr Kyeishe added that he has resorted to mixing agrochemicals with acaricides since the available ones on the market are failing.

Mr Jackson Bells Katongole, a dairy farmer in Kashari, Mbarara District, said if the government’s move to have anti-tick vaccine is successful, quality of dairy products would improve.
“A farmer loses at least two to five cows every month and we have resorted to using different concoctions from Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya because the problem of ticks has made us helpless,” he said.
He added: “We had reached the point of mixing pesticides with acaricides because of tick resistance and in the process our cows have gone blind, lost skin and others died.”

Mr Katongole further said each cow that dies is valued at around Shs2.5 million, which means that a farmer loses Shs5 million every month.
The Mbarara City Veterinary Officer, Dr Andrew Akashaba, said in Mbarara alone, there are about 60,000 head of cattle, mostly exotic breeds which are prone to ticks.
“Most of the exotic breeds of cattle are at a high risk of acquiring ticks and tick borne diseases, which are a major hindrance to livestock development in the cattle corridor,” he said.
Mr Akashaba added that between 2,000 and 3,000 cows die annually in Mbarara alone due to tick-related diseases.

While launching the final clinical trial of anti-tick vaccine manufactured by National Agriculture Research Organisation at Mbarara Zardi on Thursday, the deputy director general and research coordinator, Dr Yona Baguma, assured the farmers that once the vaccine is approved, they will be spraying their cattle against ticks twice in six months as opposed to twice a week.

Original source: Monitor

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Farmers fail to access farm inputs on Ministry e-platform

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About 3,640 model farmers in Nebbi District, who were registered under the Agricultural Cluster Development Programme (ACDP) to access agricultural inputs on E-voucher, are stuck after failure of the system.

The farmers say the system has affected their planting patterns.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry under the Agriculture cluster Development Programme (ACDP) introduced the e-voucher system five years ago to enable farmers access agricultural inputs electronically.

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Farmers on alert as new banana virus hits Western Uganda

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Farmers should stop getting banana plantlets from districts in Western and North-West Uganda to stop the spread of the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) disease, Hebert Musiimenta, the Principal Agricultural Inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries-MAAIF has advised.

The Banana Bunchy Top Virus was first observed in the western Uganda districts in late 2020. In July this year, the ministry raised a red flag when the disease caused havoc on banana plantations in West Nile, Rwenzori and Tooro regions.

An infected plant presents with severe stunting, narrow leaves, chlorotic leaf margins, and dark green streaks on petioles and midribs. The affected plant also shows a rosette-like or bunchy and choked appearance. Diseased plants rarely produce fruit and when they do, the fruit is stunted and twisted.

The disease is spread by aphids and the planting of affected tubers.

The disease has the capacity to wipe out banana gardens within 3 to 5 years unless farmers practice the control measures such as the proper destruction of affected stems, control of aphids, and planting clean materials.

Hebert Musiimenta, Principal Agricultural Inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), says to contain the spread of the disease, farmers should stop getting banana planting materials from Nebbi, Zombo, Arua, Maracha, and Koboko districts in North-West Uganda and Bunyangabu, Kasese, Kabarore, and Bundibugyo districts in Western Uganda.

He also advises the farmers to be cautious about planting materials from Kisoro, Kabale, Ntungamo, and Isingiro districts since they are near the border.  The disease is suspected to have spread to Uganda from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda. Musiimenta advised farmers in an interview with URN that if they are to pick planting materials, they should first consult agriculture officers in their areas to recommend safe planting materials.

Musimenta revealed that a team of officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries, and Fisheries is investigating the prevalence of the virus in Kigezi region specifically districts neighboring Rwanda and DR Congo.

He says the disease has the capacity to wipe out banana gardens within 3 to 5 years unless farmers practice the control measures such as the proper destruction of affected stems, control of aphids, and planting clean materials.

Original Source: URN via The independent

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