Mr. Michael Woira

Has anybody noticed that many people in the East especially in Busoga have all almost resorted to planting sugarcane? Of course, it’s not bad for people to plant sugarcane but is it the best practice as of now?  I will say ‘No’ because I have observed it is not seriously benefiting the local people down there in the villages, despite their efforts.

Years back, when Kakira Sugar Works (KSW) was the only operational sugar factory in the country, sugarcane planting was somehow of value but as time went on and the factory started planting its own sugarcane, things changed  lot for the outgrowers, for the worse.

The issue of sugarcane growing is dear to me given that some factories like Kakira and Kaliro are close to where I stay. This also means that my immediate family, relatives, villagemates and to a large extent all residents of Luuka depend on the sugar industry in one way or the other.

On top of that, almost all homes in Busoga with some good acres of land have decided to use it for sugarcane planting and given up on growing food crops.

I was recently in eastern Uganda and listening to one radio station there, a campaign was being run to emphasize sugarcane growing in Busoga! Really? Some media houses are even giving airtime to people to preach such a gospel to people who are suffering with hunger and anger caused by sugarcane planting. The very people, who sell sugarcane to factories cheaply, buy sugar expensively and that’s the trend in this country.

Anyway, we have better solutions for this problem in Busoga: growing tea, coffee, potatoes, maize, beans, tomatoes, soya beans or even coffee will earn the villagers 10 times more if they abandoned this ‘sugarcane madness’.

That is why the time is ripe for the villagers and other suffering farmers to rid their farms of sugarcane which give less returns. The sugar industry benefits no one in Uganda and government sometimes wastes money bailing out collapsing sugar factories, while other Ugandans consume ridiculously expensive sugar to sustain the loss making industries.

We also have this problem of food security; this issue is not just a problem for the poor; it will become increasingly a problem for everybody because of population growth.

By 2050, two-thirds of humanity will be crowded into cities that consume the available surrounding land by excavating it for clay and stone, covering it with tarmac and cement, and digging up soil to absorb landfill. Living space will outdo growing space and because the planet does not expand, cropland available per capita will be reduced and there will be little to eat in case food security is not made a priority now.

Importantly, we should bear in mind that agriculture has been and is still the economic driver of most countries. Indeed, for developing countries economic growth is dependent on agricultural growth. And growth in agriculture, although beneficial for the wider economy, benefits the poor most. Agricultural growth can lead to providing affordable food for 70% of the world’s poorest people who live in rural areas and who depend on agriculture.

Ensuring agriculture is able to play this fundamental role requires a range of improvements including: the growing of higher value crops and promoting value-addition like improved processing; expanding access to markets and lowering food prices through increasing production, processing and marketing efficiency, particularly for subsistence and very low income farming families. Crop diversity is fundamental to agricultural growth; it enables farmers and plant breeders to develop higher yielding, more productive varieties that have the improved quality characteristics required by farmers and desired by consumers.

Farmers in Busoga can breed varieties that are better suited to particular processing methods or that can be transported with less loss. They can also produce varieties that resist pests and diseases and are drought tolerant, providing more protection against crop failure and this can better insulate poor farmers from risks.

Finally, I would like to urge my fellow farmers in Busoga to concentrate on planting food crops and also copy the ‘four-acre’ model that was introduced by the President because it will enable us carry out different kinds of agriculture on our farms which will in turn enable us get something to sell and still remain with a lot to eat.