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Lamwo: 800 tonnes of sugarcane seeds face expiry due to labour shortage

Over 800 tonnes of cane seeds acquired for planting under the Ayuu Alali commercial Sugarcane Project in Lamwo district are set to expire next week because of inadequate workers to plant them.

The sugarcane production project for Ayuu Alali Out growers Cooperative Society located in Palabek Sub-County, is being overseen by Horyal Holdings Limited, which owns Atiak Sugar Works in Amuru district.

The company received funding through the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) to open up 15,000 hectares of land in Lamwo district for commercial sugarcane plantation.

It bought over 4000 metric tonnes of cane seeds from Busoga Sub-Region and planting commenced last month.

However, Mahmoud Abdi Mohammed, the Executive Director of Horyal Holdings Investment Limited, has said shortage of casual labourers is greatly impeding the planting of the cane seeds.

“We have received 3800 tonnes of seed cane but have planted only 720 tonnes,” Mahmoud said.

The reason, he said, is that while the project needed 900 workers to plant 100 acres of sugarcane daily in order to meet the plantation target on time, they have less than half the required number.

Even more worrying, he added, is that some of the seed is due to expire if it is not planted soon.

“By the end of next week we shall have an estimate of over 800 tonnes which would have expired already,” he revealed.

Mahmoud said the shortage of labour is likely to hinder them from achieving the targeted acreage this planting period because by last week between 200 to 600 tonnes of cane seeds had already dried up.

Sugarcane seedlings. Internet photo


Local labour force inadequate

Rwot Billi Onyach II, the Ayuu Alali cultural chief, said there is need for government to outsource labour to mitigate the challenge.

Rwot Onyach argued that the locals in Lamwo are not familiar with planting sugarcane, and therefore lack the skills necessary for the job. “We want the people who have experience to come and train those ones without experience so that in future they [locals] can plant their own sugarcane,” Onyach said.

 “Another challenge is that some of the workers want to go home after getting their pay, yet we want to restrict movement during this period of Coronavirus. So, we want people who are stable and ready to work and stay in the farm till planting is over,” he added.

Francis Ojwiya, the Chairperson of Ayuu Alai cooperative Society Limited said there were about 400 labourers originally, but the number has reduced to about 200, because workers who leave the farm after work are not being taken back, for fear that they might be carrying COVID-19. 

Government okays outside labourers

Two weeks ago, Horyal Investment Holdings Company sought to transport at least 400 casual labourers from Busoga sub region to fill the labor-shortage gap. The attempt was however thwarted by leaders in Acholi who argued that it was illogical to transport large numbers of people to the region against President Museveni’s directives restricting movement of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, on April 29, 2020, government officials including the Minister of Health, Dr. Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Vincent Ssempijja and Disaster Preparedness Minister and Lamwo County MP, Hillary Onek visited the sugar cane project and delivered president Museveni’s instruction to bring labourers from Busoga sub-region. 

Dr. Aceng said they were instructed by the president to visit the project site, after complaints arose that there were violations of the COVID-19 prevention guidelines on the sugar plantation.

She confirmed that the government cleared the company’s request to import more than 400 casual labourers from Kamuli to Lamwo district, as long as they are screened and tested for COVID-19 and isolated before being transported to Lamwo district.

Dr. Aceng emphasised the need for locals to learn how to plant sugarcane urgently so that in future, they are able to plant unsupervised.

“The investor is here to take them only through this planting season. If people are not trained how will they plant the sugarcane? Therefore, it is important that we bring experienced people from Kamuli, provided we follow the standard operating procedures, “she said.

The agriculture minister, Vincent Ssempijja said that government has already invested huge sums of money in the project and the required 900 workers have to be recruited so that the project is not impeded.

“The government has been generous. The whole idea about the project was to get people, … after these wars [the LRA insurgency] …into the money economy,” Ssempijja said.

About the project

Ayuu Alali Sugarcane Cooperatives Society embarked on a sugar cane production project in November 2018, after securing over 15,000 hectares of land in the Tim Ayuu wilderness from Ayuu Cultural chiefdom on a lease agreement of five years.   

The society, which comprises over 3000 benefitting households, is expected to distribute the plantation among its members with each household receiving 5 acres each.

The initiative is expected to offer employment to more than 800 permanent casual workers and 200 seasonal field workers and technical staff.  

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