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Bunyoro’s burgeoning sugarcane industry: gains and misses

Sugarcane growing has become a prominent aspect of plantation farming which is an essential requisite as it provides canes for milling and byproducts for the steep industrialisation process in Bunyoro sub-region.

Bunyoro boasts of factories such as Bwendro Dairy Farm, Hoima Sugar and Kinyara sugar works who are estimated to employ over 8,000 people.

From byproducts they produce food (sucrose, jaggery, and syrups), fibre (cellulose), fodder (green top, bagasse, and molasses), fuel- bagasse and alcohol.

These initiatives have been bolstered by the drive to provide cheap sources of energy to further drive industrialisation.

Uganda’s Energy Minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, was recently expressing surprise that not enough industries were taking advantage of energy credits offered to industrialists for appreciable power-consumption levels needed to stave off redundant power generating capacity.

As of now much new power generating capacity has been built up by the ongoing construction of the 600 megawatts Karuma Hydropower dam, 183 megawatts Isimba dam and Ayago is recorded at 840 megawatts and other mini-hydro projects.

Without such grassroots Medium and Small Scale Enterprises as sugarcane growing and agro-processing, Uganda stands much risk of falling prey to excess and redundant power-generation (production).

Sugarcane growing is particularly grassroots friendly because it is conveniently amenable to sugarcane out-grower schemes.

Out-grower schemes have proved pivotal in uplifting quality of life, standards of living and household incomes because they are particularly suitable for small and medium landlords.

The background of the political economy of Bunyoro is dominated by peasant cash crop production-coffee, cotton and food crops.

In the 1980s and 1990s the decline of cash crops like coffee due to coffee wilt disease and plummeting coffee prices was matched by the growing pervasiveness of the tobacco growing industry, which fueled the majority of household incomes up till collapse of the tobacco multinationals.

Sugarcane growing has come in as a timely substitute left by the death of the tobacco growing industry in Bunyoro like in Zimbabwe where the flourishing of the tobacco industry was undermined by the terminal global campaign against tobacco products.

With the coming of oil production, Bunyoro sub-region has become a focal point of spectacular, speculative ventures straining the demand on household incomes.

The coming up of modern roads, the rapid gentrification, construction of high rise buildings and the growing education sector and an airport, have let out a very high demand on household incomes.

The worst ravages of sugarcane growing in Bunyoro are environmental devastation-which must be nipped in the bud as the region annually loses 3.3% of its forest cover above the national average of 1.5%, which has since declined by 135

This in the end is fueling a fully-fledged agrarian stalemate and crisis, thus generating conditions of social unrest.

Additionally, there are growing concerns about the curtailing of food security indicators since land that would be for crops is replaced by sugarcane plantations.

Similarly in Bunyoro sub-region especially in the controversial cane growing areas of Kiswaza, Bugoma, Kaseta and Kiziranfumbi, among others, has displaced families from growing maize, beans, cassava, millet and other crops as household heads grapple for the quick profits from cane processing factories.

Sugarcane growing has also escalated the problems of land disputes and land grabbing as most landlords settle on customary and community land without registered titles.

In the case of Hoima sugar works against National Forestry Authority (NFA) whereby a gazetted forest reserve has been sold and more land grabbed in the long run by the investor in a land ecologists allege is part of the famous Bugoma central forest reserve.

The sugarcane distillery effluent is oftentimes released untreated into water sources, thereby affecting marine life and contaminating it to the detriment of locals who rely on this (water) for domestic use.

No one can independently verify allegations as to whether National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) was advanced any bribes to allow the conversion of land use pattern from a gazetted forest to sugarcane cultivation.

It is still debatable whether sugarcane growing has intensified corruptivity of national organs including courts.

The writer is a Journalist with The Albertine Journal

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