By Innocent Anguyo
Commercial sugarcane growing is accelerating food insecurity in Eastern Uganda especially in the Busoga region, a study by Makerere University has revealed.
The study done by the department of Forestry Bio-diversity and Tourism was aimed at establishing the prevalence of food insecurity and the impact of commercial sugarcane growing on household level food security in eastern Uganda.
It indicated that commercial sugarcane growing, although contributing to increased household income, does not necessarily increase food adequacy among households.
The authors of the study said that there are few varieties of food crops cultivated by sugarcane growing households and the households are also short of money to supplement what they grow.
‘Marry more women’
More people have taken to growing sugarcane on a commercial basis, resulting in the conversion of different land-use types to monoculture sugarcane plantations.
“Many households in the region especially around Kakira sugar factory rent out most of their land to rich out-growers and remain with a little patch which they also use for growing cane, said Dr. Edward Mwavu, who led the research team.
He did the study with two other academic doctors, Vettes Kalema and Fred Bateganya.
“The changes in land use are motivated by commercial gains for improved household income than food production,” said Mwavu.
However, the researcher was sure to note that most men used the income acquired from commercial sugar growing to marry more women.
“This might compromise the sustainable management of their agro-diversity as well as food production consequently exposing them to food insecurity and malnutrition.”
He made the presentation recently at Makerere University at the Food Science and Technology Conference Hall during the Next Generation of African Academics Dissemination conference.
Kakira Sugar plantation. PHOTO/Juliet Kasirye
Labour in exchange for food
According to the study, 87% of households in sugarcane growing areas reported not having adequate and nutritious foods to meet their family needs.
Even among the commercial sugarcane growers, only three in every 10 households reported food adequacy and that nearly 21 in every 25 households reported sugarcane growing as the main source of food insecurity in the area.
At district level, 44.2% of households in Mayuge and 39.4% in Jinja attributed food insecurity to sugar cane growing.
Households also reported employing various coping mechanisms that included offering labour in exchange for food (30.8%), borrow food (9.1%), rationing of food (7.2%) and at times stealing from their neighbours.
It also emerged that male-headed households were most insecure (62.5%) due to disregard for food in favour of other assets such as houses, bicycles and clothes.
Those who owned land, the researchers learnt, were most food insecure (68.0%) since they rented it out at about sh500, 000 per acre for four harvest seasons (about eight years) in a bid to make quick money, subsequently remaining with little land for food.
Food insecurity in the region, the study noted, was also worsened by increasing trends in crop failures, family sizes, trade in food items in the villages, and declining food availability, land available for crop cultivation, and livestock numbers.
The work involved 208 households in two commercial sugarcane growing districts of Jinja and Mayuge.
Face-to-face household questionnaires, interviews and focus group discussions were used to collect data.
The study recommends policy-makers to establish poverty alleviation and food security initiatives that will focus on providing alternatives sources of income for the sugar cane growing households.
Affected households were also urged to allocate more land for growing food crops as opposed to cash crops as a remedy to food insecurity.