Uganda News

Why has Busoga remained the poorest

While sugarcane production has increased from over one million tons in 1961 to almost five million tons in 2018, farmers in areas like Busoga continue to live in poverty, according to Dr. Mbowa.

Busoga has the most sugarcane mills and sugarcane acres, owing to the lush soil surrounding Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga, as well as good rains.

However, the continuous poverty in Busoga raises doubts about whether cane farming is beneficial to farmers.

According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2020 data, Busoga has 1.2 million poor people, with 0.4 million of them living in food poverty. Food insecurity, often known as household food poverty, can be brought on by a financial or personal catastrophe. It includes both the cost of food and the availability of food in local communities.

According to a research conducted by the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), Eastern Uganda, specifically Busoga, has the biggest sugarcane milling capacity at 35%, followed by Central Uganda at 27%, Western Uganda at 26%, and Northern Uganda, a newcomer to sugar milling at 12%.

Dr. Swaibu Mbowa, an EPRC senior research fellow, presented the findings at a virtual conference titled “Rethinking Sugarcane Governance Structures to Address Rural Poverty and Food Security.”

While sugarcane production has increased from over one million tons in 1961 to almost five million tons in 2018, farmers in areas like Busoga continue to live in poverty, according to Dr. Mbowa.

Farmers may be converting forest land to cane production, shifting additional arable land designated for food production to cane production, or renting out property for cane production, according to him.

“This means that any increases in sugar production in the country are due to more land. Where does the increase in sugarcane production come from? He observed, “We know it’s tied to acreage growth, yet there’s no productivity enhancement.”

Individuals who rent their land for sugarcane production become trapped in a debt cycle or wind up selling the land to the person who rented it in the first place.

The person who has hired the land usually need it for at least 54 months, or three planting seasons. Because the first cutting covers costs such as seed, planting, and fertilizer, a farmer begins to earn from the second and third cuttings.

According to Dr. Mbowa, the number of sugarcane mills has increased from roughly three in 1975 to 33 in 2020. Increased sugar production and milling, he claims, would result in higher revenues, lower poverty, and improved food security through food purchases.

‘Sugarcane prices are declining. In 2017, a farmer would be paid 180,000 shillings every metric ton of grain. A farmer is harvesting about 60,000 today. There is also development that speculators who have gained access to the permits do not like. Sugarcane is no longer purchased in metric tons. “They’re buying fields,” Mbowa added.

However, according to media estimates, sugarcane prices have dropped by 200 percent in the last five years, affecting farmer incomes and implying poverty because sugarcane is a perennial crop that takes more than 18 months to mature.

“In the region, Kakira is a cornerstone sugar processing business. Why is poverty and food insecurity so prevalent in the sugarcane-growing regions? Now we’re in the Northern region, which is one of the sugarcane-lagging zones. We need to identify teachings that are relevant to what is happening in Busoga. So we don’t repeat the same mistakes in Northern Uganda,” Mbowa remarked.

Why has Busoga remained impoverished for so long?

Kakira has around 10,000 registered cane farmers, according to Mwine Jim Kabeho, chairman of the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association.

“Kakira pays out 14 billion shillings to farmers every month, and some regions receive a tenth of that as a year’s total revenue. So, what’s the deal with Busoga’s poverty? We have to figure it out. We have 11,600 people working for us. And we pay 6.5 billion dollars per month.

According to Kabeho, 60 percent of the land in the Busoga region is arable, whereas only 20% is planted with sugarcane. “Where is the other ten percent?” What exactly is it doing? That’s something we’ll have to look into. However, if we solely focus on sugar, we may not be able to answer the question,” Kabeho said.

Kabeho proposes that sugarcane be zoned according to the number of sugar mills in the area. “It will go down in history that they transport row cane from Busoga to Atiak in Uganda. It is never found anywhere on the planet. One of the most essential things to achieve is to have sugar that is sustainable,” Kabeho said, adding that more research into quick maturing sugarcane for better yield and thus higher earnings for farmers is also needed.

“Right now, what’s generating these issues is that we’re recovering 60-70 tons per hectare from the field. The nucleus estate, I believe, is producing up to 120 tons per hectare. However, normal farmers produce 60-70 tons per hectare, which is staggering,” he remarked.

According to him, the amount of sugar produced per 100 tons of sugarcane in Uganda is decreasing. “The average age in Uganda is now seven. Only seven kilograms of sugar are produced from a hundred kilos of sugarcane. When you go to a reunion somewhere else, like Zimbabwe or Brazil, it’s 13-14.”

The out-grower system has collapsed.

Sugar milling used to be built on an out grower system, with significant millers like Kakira, Kinyara, and Lugazi having nucleus estates that were supplemented by an out grower system.

It’s becoming clear that the newly licensed mills lack nucleus estates and began poaching sugarcane in 2016.

Dr. Mbowa stated, “The new smaller mills that are being licensed have no nucleus estates, thus they have damaged the out grower system.”

However, Michael Mugabira of the Greater Busoga Sugarcane Growers Cooperative Union disagrees that the current sugarcane farmer issue is in any way tied to the out grower system’s failure.

He claims that the issue is that large millers are also sugarcane growers, putting them in competition with smaller farmers.

“According to my research, India eliminated the nucleus estate system by law in the 1950s because of the identical issue we are facing. The majority of large millers now harvest their own cane. You mill if you’re a miller. “Don’t grow cane,” Mbaziira said.

According to Kabeho, the sugarcane issue began in 2015, when more millers were granted sugar milling licenses. “There was no sugarcane in 2015.” In one area, the mills were permitted to operate. Sugarcane prices increased from 60,000 to 180000 dollars. As a result, we began a difficulty with row cane crushing. All of the mills were in the red.”

Former MP Robert Kasule believes that in order for Busoga to break out from its current poverty cycle, it will be necessary to diversify and find new crops for farmers rather than relying on a single perennial crop for the entire region.

“Sugarcane has a poor monetary worth. We also have to be cautious with low-value crops because their natural habitat is plantations. Kasule explained that not everyone in the region can cultivate sugarcane.

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