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Govt Responds To Sugar Petition

by Wangah Wanyama
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By Nelson Mandela Muhoozi

Deputy Attorney General Jackson Kafuuzi has responded to a petition by the Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association to bar the licensing of new millers.

Kafuuzi who was appearing before the Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry on Tuesday, November 28, 2023, said the trade ministry is better placed to respond to the legality of the new licences.

He was also responding to the issues in the Sugar Act, 2020. The Act establishes a Sugar Board but it will not be implemented following rationalising of government agencies.

The Sugar Board was expected to regulate the sugar industry through licensing of millers. When asked by the legislators on the way forward, Kafuuzi said: “It is only the line ministry that takes charge and that is why I get the concern that perhaps we should be here together with the Ministry of Trade. We would have answered these questions better together”.

Kafuuzi, however, said the law will now be amended to introduce a Sugar Council, adding that licensing will be undertaken by the trade minister.

He said that the move is intended to address concerns of the independence of the Council. 

“Clause 7 of the Bill states that one of the mandates of the council is to review applications for sugar licensing, establishment, expansion of sugar production and provide recommendations with justifications to the minister to grant licenses or reject,” he said.

Deputy Solicitor General Pius Biribonwoha said that the Council will consist of sugarcane farmers and millers from all catchment regions.

“The activities of the Council, including extension services, marketing development, research and development will be financed with funds generated from the sugar levy on millers. Government will not appropriate funds to finance activities of the council,” he said.

Concerns of cane farmers

Richard Gafabusa (Bwamba County, NRM), however, raised concern over what he termed as the Government’s reluctance to support sugarcane farmers.

“Why are we leaving sugarcane farmers and millers to finance the Council and yet we are generating so much from the industry? The reason so many sugarcane farmers are complaining is because milers are exploiting them,” he said.

He also questioned the sustainability of the Council, saying that the body risks failing to finance activities during periods when the industry is making losses.

“How will the Government supervise the council since you do not have control? I am anticipating more chaos because of less government influence,” he added.

The legislators also questioned the legality of licences that were issued after the Act came into force, in the absence of the Sugar Board.  

“The power to license in the Act currently lies with the board, not the minister and that is why we are wondering how the minister is coming to license now,” said the committee’s deputy chairperson Catherine Lamwaka (District Woman Representative Omoro, NRM).

Kafuuzi reassured lawmakers that the proposed stakeholder sugar council will be independent.

The committee resolved to meet the trade minister and Attorney General on Thursday November 30, 2023.

Petition

While appearing before the committee on November 21, 2023, the petitioners stated that the trade ministry licensed new millers who have not adhered to the Sugar Policy which puts a restriction of a 25km radius.

Exploiting cane farmers

Sugarcane outgrowers in Busoga and Buganda regions who were present in the meeting decried what they called exploitation by sugar factories, saying the factories are paying them low prices for their sugarcane, which is not enough to cover their costs of production.

They also said the sugarcane millers no longer provide them with adequate support services, such as access to credit and equipment, among others, and yet they are making the biggest profits from the business.

Several sugarcane outgrower associations said that as a result of the exploitation, many sugarcane outgrowers are struggling to make ends meet. 

“Farmers have even been forced to abandon their farms. For a peasant or a small-scale farmer, it is now very hard to invest in even one acre of sugarcane as the costs are so high,” they said.

David Christopher from the Busoga Sugarcane Outgrowers Association said they hardly make profits as every factory dictates its own price. 

“The farmers need aid to be able to plant more acreage for sugarcanes. We are being paid about sh200 per kilo gram of cane, this is the crop that earns the least,” he said.

According to the farmers, the sugarcane industry is not regulated properly as the current players are operating in alliance against farmers.

They alleged that bureaucratic tendency by the millers caused fluctuations in the sugarcane prices which heavily affected the farmers. They said that they are being highly exploited while the factors enjoy a lion’s share of the business.

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