• Authored By: Alon Mwesigwa
28 Aug 2021

While Uganda has seen a jump in sugarcane production, this has come as a result of more land being tilled than improvement in production methods. According to Dr. Swaibu Mbowa, a senior research fellow, at the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), “any gains from sugarcane production in the country is coming from expanded land. No productivity enhancement.”

The sources of land for sugarcane, he said there are three possible possible sources: conversion of forests into sugarcane growing, conversion of crop land to sugarcane, and then land rentals are developing in the areas where cane is grown.

Dr. Mbowa was presenting an industry overview at a consultative policy dialogue with actors in the sugarcane sub-sector at the 8th National Agriculture Forum organised by EPRC with support from USAID and the Government of Uganda.

The forum was themed, Rethinking Sugarcane Governance Structures To Better Address Rural Poverty And Food Insecurity. The forum also acted as a launchpad for a three-year research programme by EPRC in collaboration with Michigan State University and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Mbowa noted that in the 70s, the country had only three mills – Kakira, Kinyara, and Lugazi but right now, there are about 33 mills and this has come with expansion in processing capacity and employment opportunities.

Regional distribution of millers has seen eastern Uganda take the lion`s share at 35%. Central region is 27%, western region (26) and northern region (20%). Some are operational and others are not operational.

Despite noticeable growth in the number of millers, sugarcane farmers have not seen much improvement in their day-to-day lives.

“What are we observing? we are seeing a decline in sugarcane prices. In 2017, the farmer received 180,000 shillings per metric ton. Today, a farmer is picking almost Shs 60,000 and there is also a development unwanted of speculators in cane not buying cane in metric tones but in fields,” Mbowa says. The decline in prices has had implications on incomes but also food security.

“Eastern region where sugarcane has been growing for long is among the poorest in the country. 1.2 million persons. Half a million people live in food poverty,” he said.

Mbowa voiced concern that in the absence of the sugar board, there is limited coordination at production (horizontal level). limited capacity of growers` association which in away is reducing the farmers bargaining capacity. The second one is the cordination between growers and millers.

He noted that the management of East Africa Countries sugar relations is crucial. The disagreements among partner states are leading to consistent falling sugarcane prices that farmers are getting from millers because of blocked exports.

Increase in cane production in sugarcane growing communities has not transformed their lives for the better. Photo/courtesy

Dr. Micheal Mugabira, the coordinator of the Great Busoga Sugarcane Growers Union Limited, there was need “need to find out who owns the licenses for the mills. There is a very big problem.”

But Jim Mwine Kabeho, the chairman of the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association (UMA), said that while there are 30,000 sugarcane farmers in Busoga, but 5 million people in the area, the question should be what other economic capacity are these ones doing, noting that poverty in the area may not because people are growing sugarcane there.

Dr. Sarah Ssewanyana, the EPRC executive director, sugarcane is one of the prioritized enterprises for Busoga and Bunyoro sub-region in the Natipnal Development Plan III

However, she said “We’re aware that sugarcane is currently grown in the currently poorest and lagging sub-regions of Uganda – that’s Busoga and Bunyoro”

“As Ugandans, we don’t want to label sugarcane as a crop grown by the poor. Sugarcane has also received significant political and media attention in the recent past. In the newspapers and everywhere people talk about sugarcane,” she said

State Minister for Trade David Bahati said the discussion on the sugar sub-sector was timely. He noted that good research in this area will add new knowledge which is very important for the agro-industrialization agenda of this country.


2 comments on “A call to rethink the sugarcane sub-sector to address rural poverty in Uganda

  1. The issues of poverty are multi-dimensional.

    Each stakeholder has a role to play; but they can only deliver if there exists a deliberate and dedicated coordination.

    In a recent newspaper article I suggested 3 “plans” highlighting specific actions that can turn around Busoga.

    Those corrective actions are inevitable and essential. There are no shortcuts!


    Demographically, poverty affects mainly rural women and children. Poverty is manifested in school drop-outs, malnourishment, teenage pregnancies, lacking potable water, dismal household income, unemployment, congestion in poor shelters, etc. These problems are present elsewhere in Uganda but the severity in Busoga has been exacerbated by its culture; the land tenure system that marginalises women; a leadership that indulges in intrigue; stakeholder disengagement; lack of a harmonised vision; land inefficiency; under-skilled labour; and much more.

    Therefore, in order to develop Busoga out of poverty and to accelerate the progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, Government could consider the following three plans: –

    The Corrective Action Plan aiming to fill gaps completely and finally. The specific actions being gender mainstreaming; provision of potable water; controlled urbanisation; elimination of worst forms of child labour; organised commercial agriculture; animal husbandry; afforestation; conservation of wetlands; protection of endangered species; sponsored skilling of youths; pragmatic support in games & sports; and focused reproductive health. In this respect, all stakeholders must demonstrate commitment to the designed plan.

    The Stakeholder Engagement Plan would compel visible social responsibility activities by manufactures; supporting selected actions planned by Busoga Consortium for Development; synchronisation of development activities with local governments; integration of activities by development partners; financial inclusion by financial institutions; technical institutions for artisanal training; and the Busoga kingdom for cultural transformation.

    The Enforcement & Sustainability Plan would include formulation of local government ordinances that regulate selected corrective actions; revision of the Sugar Act to make it meaningful; and facilitation of the enforcement services to focus on corrective actions.

  2. Poverty in Busoga has two major characteristics. The first is that it is multidimensional, requiring more Government intervention to provide more infrastructure such as good community and district roads, good education (primary and secondary), community development and training services, bulking and marketing infrastructure, extension services, rural electrification, etc. The other is that it is largely aggravated by lack of daily income earning enterprises. Maize and sugarcane are seasonal and long-term income earners, respectively. Moreover, they are low value crops which can never transform peasants, whose land holding averages 2 acres per household of 5 people, to modernity. There is need to avoid encouraging Basoga to venture into maize and sugarcane growing. They need to venture into zero grazing of diary cattle to supply milk for processing into packed milk, Yorghart, etc. Poultry farming using feeds made from maize, banana and horticultural products are also feasible.

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