Alupakusadi Ikoba, the LC1 chairperson of Ntafungirwa village believes, a farmer who grows food crops may end up with more money than the one opting for sugarcane.
Siraji Kipanda is the proud owner of four acres of sugarcane plantation in Kiroba village, Bukanga sub-county, Luuka district. Like most such farmers, Kipanda has to wait almost 20 months for harvest time so that his land can be clear of the crop.
In most instances, after reaping millions from sugar companies, he replants the same crop. Incentives, like free seedlings and ploughing of the field, have lured many, like Kipanda, to jump onto the cane-growing bandwagon at the cost of neglecting traditional food crops.
Genesis of the problem
When the Madhvani Group repossessed their estate from the Government in the mid- 1980s, it was revamped and rebranded Kakira Sugar Works (1985) Limited. This was in the aftermath of Idi Amin's expulsion of Asians of Indian origin in 1972 that included the Madhvanis.
According to Mariam Mutesi, an outgrower based in Iganga town, Madhvani by then had a monopoly in Busoga region, with a majority of outgrowers or private cane growers affiliated to the company. However, of late, several sugar companies have opened in the region, bringing the total number to four. The dash to meet the demand at the four factories seems to be the starting point of the huge plantations now dotting Busoga landscape.
According to Abdullah Balunywa, the LC3 chairman of Bulamagi in Iganga, the sugar factories provide incentives like free cuttings for planting, fertilisers and ploughs that tempt many to embrace the seemingly trending crop. "Most of the farmers go to rural areas, where they rent land for lengthy periods. Depending on bargaining power, each acre of land is rented at about sh1.5m per year," Balunywa says.
Alupakusadi Ikoba, the LC1 chairperson of Ntafungirwa village believes, a farmer who grows food crops may end up with more money than the one opting for sugarcane. "Five bags each weighing 100kg, of improved quality maize from an acre can fetch sh850,000, if not sold immediately after harvest when prices are low.
This gives the farmer about sh1.6m from the two annual seasons," Ikoba argues. He adds that for two years, the amount adds up to sh3.2m, which may be more than the net profi t for the sugarcane grower who foots transport costs to the factory. Thomas Kategere, the Kamuli district chairperson, says some residents have of late taken to eating mangoes in the area due to food shortages.
Records at regional hospitals indicate that there is an increase in cases of malnutrition in recent times. Dr James Waako, the medical superintendent of Iganga Hospital, says about four out of every 10 children admitted to the paediatric ward possess signs of malnourishment. "Usually it takes a specialised diet care to become healthy again. The mothers are often also not well fed to breastfeed effectively," Waako argues.
Bangu observes that stringent by-laws need to be enacted by local councils to control the proliferation of sugarcane growing in Busoga sub-region. "Deterrent measures, like local collection of high taxes from cane-carrying trucks, could also help check on the menace," Bangu says.
Dr David Muwanguzi, the Iganga district health offi cer, suggests sensitisation of masses the need for food security and eating a balanced diet, which should be enforced through local health units.