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.
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.