KAMPALA – The continuing impasse between the President and the Parliamentarians on the Sugar Bill is bad news for this economy and is mainly a result of perception. The President’s view point is macro-economic; he aims to sustain national production and competitiveness in the EAC region, while parliamentarians look at the micro-economics i.e. attendant farmers’ displeasures and local politics. Until both parties stand on the same hilltop, they will never see the same landscape.
Since the first time the Sugar Bill was passed by Parliament, the stakeholders urged the President not to assent to it into law until the following questions were addressed: – (a) the ethical, moral and economic aspects in the sugar industry that were a genesis of the current crisis; (b) food insecurity in the Busoga sub-region and the neighbouring communities; (c) costs of production and negative impacts on farmer revenue; (d) reduced aggregate production and revenue loss to established millers; (e) loss of tax revenue to Government; and (f) breach of contracts by parties in sugarcane trading.
This time around, the stakeholders expected parliamentarians to deliberate with a discerning mind on the above matters and formulate suitable recommendations before returning the bill to the President in its original form. One contention is mill zoning. The sugar mill distances is best exemplified by Tanzania where the demand for more sugar necessitated additional plantations. The established factories of Mtibwa and Kilombero are now sandwiching a new one, Kilosa, at 100 km from each of the two old factories. In fact, the closest factory in Tanzania from any 0ther is 80 km. The poor examples we never need to benchmark with or follow are India (in the past) and Kenya (recently).
The reasons that our sugar industry must be allowed to flourish include production of sugar, electricity, ethanol, employment, farmers’ income, saving the foreign currency, social responsibility activities, environmental protection, tax revenue to Government and so on. Sugar is one of Uganda’s productive advantage and must be guarded jealously. The National Sugar Policy formulated 20 years ago was mindful of these reasons and it provided specific sustainability measures for the industry – which were ignored to the country’s detriment.
Rather than hiding behind the Sugar Bill, the parliamentarians and local leaders can effectively sort out farmers’ discontent by (i) removing middlemen from sugarcane trading (ii) directing sub-county chiefs to witness land lease agreements between peasants and cane growers; (iii) providing information and logistics to households regarding alternative crops, e.g. sugarcane has a cost-benefit ratio of 1:2 while that of robusta coffee is 1:3; (iv) strengthening farmers’ associations based on economic rather than political sentiments e.g. for purposes of cane price negotiation, value addition into ethanol; (v) ensuring that the ratio of sugarcane area to cultivable land available does not exceed 30% in any District; and (vi) only mature sugarcane is harvested. Regulation of these common causes of confusion can be made through Local Government Ordinances.
Farmers have perceived that there is sugarcane over-supply but this mainly stems from harvesting cane at less than 18 months and they have resolved to convert this cane to jaggery. Parliamentarians have now spent time debating jaggery and induced the trade ministry officials to visit Kamuli to respond to an outcry over abuse of farmers. There are alternatives products that are beneficial to this country other than jaggery, for example, ethanol. Ethanol is a biofuel.
Why is ethanol important? Uganda’s urban population of 4 million people depend on charcoal and wood for cooking and therefore are responsible for cutting down over 100,000 hectares of vegetation cover annually, an area roughly equivalent to 5 sub-counties. The supply chain of charcoal depletes the environment, creates greenhouse gases, increases respiratory diseases and denies users timely meals. Ethanol burned in stoves is a perfect substitute for charcoal and the urban Ugandans will need 182 million litres annually, if all of them depend only on ethanol for cooking. It is proven that a household of 4 persons can use 0.5 litre of ethanol per day for the 3 standard meals. Bugosa sugarcane farmers can make ethanol directly from sugarcane juice (by-passing the crystal sugar production) with an insatiable local consumption demand. However, it is essential to implement efficient, organised and sustainable production means for this quantity of ethanol by farmers. Jaggery is a substandard solution to farmers. In any case, the law requires registration and licensing of a jaggery mill.
If parliamentarians continue to disregard important factors in the National Sugar Policy or such questions as raised by stakeholders, the President’s position to reject an incomplete law is strengthened.