Sugarcane farmers - Hundreds of farmers in Busoga sub-region are stuck with heaps of sugarcane after Sugar and Allied Industries Limited (SAIL), the main buyer, ran into different kinds of trouble that contributed to its delay to start operations.
SAIL was supposed to kick off operations at the end of January. And in preparation for its launch, the company signed up more than 4,000 outgrowers and asked them to grow cane. But officials say heavy rains have disrupted work, among other hiccups, forcing them to suspend some plans like buying cane from outgrowers.
"We are selling our sugarcane at a loss," says Joseph Jonga, owner of 15 acres of sugarcane plantation, who was forced to look elsewhere to sell the cane. "We thought we were going to make money but now we are left counting losses."
Jonga says SAIL had promised to buy their sugarcane at Shs 10,000 higher than the prevailing market prices of the other local factories in the region. The farmers therefore expected a price range of anywhere between Shs 90,000 and Shs 95,000 per tonne. Syed Akhater Abbas, the General Manger at SAIL, says besides the heavy rains between July and December, the firm delayed to bring in key machinery from Europe and Asia.
Some of the equipment is needed for the factory to produce an estimated 12MW of its own electricity. To get whatever money they can, some farmers are willing to sell to any sugar firm that can offer a reasonable price. But they find themselves in a difficult situation. Usually, the factories have already planned for a season, meaning they have enough cane.
And then again, each sugarcane factory has its list of outgrowers that it deals with. Buying sugarcane from a different set of outgrowers could create tension with the formally-registered farmers. SAIL is now expected to start operations in April, according to management. Field Manager Ronald Baraza says the company has not planted any sugarcane of its own but will depend on its registered outgrowers.
"We have outgrowers throughout Busoga sub-region and we have given some of them loans, fertilizers, disk ploughs and seed canes. We have also established some 10 sugarcane collection centres," he said.
But with farmers experiencing losses at the beginning, SAIL finds itself with a mountain to climb to convince the outgrowers that when the factory starts operations, the previous problems will not return to haunt them.
By Andrew Mulinda