Not so Sweet!; Tough Times for Sugarcane Growing Communities in Busoga Sub-Region, Eastern Uganda

With plenty of sugarcane, life is expected to be sweet but unfortunately for the people of Busoga Sub region, Eastern Uganda it is totally contradictory. Over the five years sugar production has taken a fold resulting into conversion of land at the expense of other crops grown. This can be accounted for by the many mushrooming sugar factories in the region calling for expansion of raw material sources.

The National Sugar Policy of 2010 clearly demands for a 25Km radius between two sugar producing factories as one way to decrease the localization of sugarcane growing to allow people use the land diversely for growing multiples of crops to combat food insecurity and hunger. The Sub region is located in close proximity to Lake Kyoga and Lake Victoria guaranteeing reliable and good rainfall patterns coupled with fertile soils making it absolutely viable enough to become Uganda’s food basket. 

Years before manifestation of the many sugar producing factories in comparison with few producers predestined higher prices and favorable market for the out growers providing raw materials for the factories. The earlier growers ripped big profiting off the new-fangled trade hence luring other people to join devoting all the labor and land towards sugarcane growing.

However with time there was an exponential growth in the number of sugar cane farmers inferring that the supply surpassed the demand and by sheer will the laws of economics had to act accordingly, an inevitable decrease in prices followed. The most disturbing thing is whilst the prices of raw materials decreased the price of sugar didn’t and this is evident as the largest percentage of out growers can’t afford to buy sugar. The producers export sugar to major international market destinations at higher prices making lots of profits at the expense of small holder farmers and no move has been made to intervene into the ongoing exploitation.

Sugarcane growing in Busoga

Whereas other land owners argue that they are able to earn a living from the trade, the largest percentage of inhabitants of the Sub region are experiencing the reverse because now land owners rent land to sugar cane producing factories since they pay a slightly fair price per season. This has led to the increase in the pricing of rent by almost 100% for one acre per season.

Sugarcane is a perennial crop that takes almost 8 months to a full year to mature to harvesting stage so most land owners rent out their land for almost a period of five years, a move that rendered many landless hence giving up on agricultural activities. Since most people use up the money in a way to adapt with the changing situations, they have had to venture into trade, employment in sugar factories and other small businesses. 

The incursion of COVID-19 global pandemic has also affected the inhabitants of the region colossally. Massive decline in production at the sugar factories led to laying off of some workers, inducing unemployment most especially affecting the casual laborers indirectly hired by the sugar industry.

With all the negatives that have come along with COVID-19 global pandemic, there is some positivity and hope as the tough times have exposed the masses in the region to food insecure situations and they are realizing the need to grow food for consumption. In previous years, an uproar by the local leaders urging people to grow variety of food crops has always been rendered inoperable by the locals. It’s so unfortunate that the lesson had to be learnt in such a hard way though we stand firm with the locals during the testing and trying times but I call upon those with capabilities to offer a helping hand to reach out to the people of Busoga Sub region.