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Sugar manufacturers downplay outcry on low production

FILE PHOTO: Sugarcane growers.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Sugar factories in Busoga region are expected to resume production in two weeks’ time, according to Jim Kabeho, the chairman of the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association.

Up to six sugar factories in the region had halted production for more than two months to undertake routine machine maintenance. The factories include Kakira, Mayuge, Kaliro, GM and Kamuli Sugar, all in Busoga region.

The suspension of operations resulted in complaints from out-growers on the low demand for sugarcane, most of which had gone beyond the 18-month maturity period. Some of the farmers petitioned their area MPs for government intervention, arguing that their canes had been loaded on trucks for weeks, with no hope for a market.

Bugabula South MP Henry Kibalya says besides the suspension of production, a number of out-growers had complained that the existing factories cannot buy all their cane.

According to Kibalya, Kamuli Sugar Works has a capacity of crushing 1, 400 tons against a supply of 3,000 tons per day, while Mayuge crushes 2,500 tons against supply capacity of 5,000 tons. He asked the government to consider issuing permits so that farmers can export excess cane to Western Kenya millers.

Kabeho acknowledges that the pressure from sugarcane growers has been piling during the maintenance period causing a lot of anxiety among farmers and communities in the on their canes drying up on farms. But he says that suspension of production is standard practice.

He, however, says that Kakira Sugar Works resumed production on Sunday.  Kakira crushes about 7,000 tons of sugar cane daily, while others crush between 1,000 to 3,000 tons per day. Kabeho is optimistic that within three weeks, all the mature cane will be crushed by the factories in the sub-region.

Meanwhile, Kabeho suspects that the uproar from the farmers could be related to the ongoing debate on the Sugar Bill, which among others provides for zoning.  The government proposed a zone of 25 kilometres between mills with not more than one mill in a zone. This implies that out-growers in a certain area can only supply sugarcane to the mill within its zone.

While out growers in Busoga sub-region have opposed zoning, large sugar producers including Kakira, Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) support zoning because small sugar producers buy from farmers whose capacity they have developed over the years.

According to official statistics, Uganda produced 365 metric tons of sugar in 2017 against a domestic annual consumption of 350,000 tons.

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