By George Bita New Vision /NECJOGHA
Isaac Batambuze, a farmer in Buyubu village, Bulamagi sub-county of Iganga district has four acres of sugar cane.
He says he started growing sugar cane in September 2016 after realizing that it was a profitable business.
“I started with an acre. Sugarcane matures in 18 months and by mid-last year , I was earning from my sweat,” Batambuze said.
Unlike other farmers who deliver their cane to the sugar factories, Batambuze sold the entire field to a middleman for shs 1.8m he did not have the out-growers’ permit that allows him to deliver the cane to the mill.
“For over 15 years, I had grown other crops but I have never earned such an amount of money from two acres. Other crops such as maize used to bring me meager returns,” Batambuze said. Because of high demand for sugar cane Batambuze has planted three more acres of sugarcane.
Between the lines
Thomas Katerega recently said locals have taken to eating mangoes due to food shortage.
“Last year, I hired two acres of land in Buyubu village, where I will plant sugar cane for five years,” he said.
Being a bone fide out grower for a sugar company in Busoga comes with several benefits from such as free farm inputs.
Christine Babirye, another farmer said in 2004, she bought 30 acres of land in Bukanga sub-county Luuka district to grow sugar cane.
“In 2005, I became a bonafide out grower after I was seconded by two farmers to Kakira sugar works. I received support in form of tractor services and cane cuttings for planting from the company,” Babirye said.
She said one can harvest about 20 tonnes of cane from an acre. A tonne of sugar goes for about shs70,000 at the factory gate.
“Previously, a tonne would go for shs41,000 but competition from mushrooming sugar mills pushed it up,” Babirye said.
“A 10 tonne capacity Tata lorry can fetch a farmer around 800,000. When other costs such as transport and offloading are deducted, one remains with about 500,000 per trip.”
At the back of good testimonies from cane farmers lies a silent problem-food insecurity.
On June 22 2013, a meeting to discuss food insecurity visa-a-vi sugarcane growing was convened in Kakira town council. During the meeting, several stakeholders called for an urgent intervention in the matter but six years down the road, nothing has been done.
Sugar cane is replacing food crop gardens on a daily basis.
Omar Bongo, the Mayuge district chairperson, blamed the problem on the concentration of many sugar companies in the same area.
Bongo said the coming of new mills sparked off the craze for Busoga to satisfy the sugarcane demand at many sugar mills.
David Bomboka, the chairperson of the Busoga sugarcane outgrowers association, said incentives for farmers from sugar factories are partly to blame for the sugar cane growing craze.
“When one plants maize or beans, he does so on his own. However, sugarcane attracts free inputs from the sugar companies,” he said.
Baker Luwangula, the Luuka L.C5 chairperson, said because residents have dedicated all their land to sugarcane growing, they now buy food from neighboring districts.
Thomas Katerega, the Kamuli district chairperson, recently said of some locals have taken to eating mangoes due to the shortage of food.
“People used to grow maize, matooke, cassava and beans but now there is sugarcane everywhere,” Katerega said.
Dr. David Muwanguzi, the Iganga district health officer, said on average, four out of 10 children admitted to health facilities in the district are malnourished.
“A child needs a balanced diet to grow well but under current circumstances, some foods are no longer available,” Muwanguzi added.
He called for a sensitisation of the locals on food security.
“Why should Busoga import maize, matooke, rice or cassava yet we used to export them?” Muwanguzi wondered.
Luwangula said the Luuka district council recently passed a resolution to restrict sugarcane growing.
“The resolution also covers child labour on sugar cane plantations. Someone with an acre or two should not be allowed to grow sugar cane,” he stressed.