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Sugarcane Outgrowers Crying Foul

KIKUUBE – Complaints over mistreatment and missed payments are sparking friction between sugarcane outgrowers and their employer, Hoima Sugar Limited in the western districts of Kikuube and Hoima.

Francis Isingoma alias Max Omuto, the chairperson of Hoima Sugarcane Outgrowers Association, said farmers are frustrated by the corrupt tendencies of workers of Hoima Sugar Limited and the delayed payment for their sugarcane.

The sugar company has about 4,000 outgrowers spread over 163 villages in Kikuube and Hoima districts.

Isingoma said farmers are always asked to pay for different services like sugarcane harvesting (cutting), transportation, supply of seeds, fertilizers and tractors for cultivation.

He said in the agreements signed between the farmers and Hoima Sugar Limited, all these services are free but farmers are forced to pay.

He accused the company of delaying to harvest sugarcane, which results in the drying and the burning of sugarcane farms. 

Speaking during their meeting in Kiziranfumbi trading center, Kiziranfumbi sub-county, he said the company is always busy on the company farms leaving sugarcane outgrowers to make losses. He said many farmers joined sugarcane growing hoping to make profits but those hopes have been dashed.

He said frustration is forcing farmers to abandon growing sugarcane. He demanded that the government intervenes.

“The company has workers who they send to offer farmers different services but every service they offer, they demand for a bribe. Those who have no money don’t get services. This is the reason why farmers’ sugarcanes are drying up in gardens because of overgrowing,” he said. 

“When sugarcane overgrows, it dries up and begins to burn up. Burnt sugarcane reduces in tonnage and price, for example one tonne of burnt sugarcane costs Shs 90, 000 while a tonne of unburnt sugarcane costs Shs 94500,” Isingoma said, adding that some famers have started cutting down the cane out of frustration to grow other crops.

Sugarcane farmers are also crying foul. They haven’t been paid for the cane they supplied last year.

Annette Katusiime and Omuhereza Peter Biragiro, who own five and three acres of sugarcane respectively, said the missed payment puts them in a financial mess. Many have failed to repay their loans and have lost property.

They also accused the company of reneging on the agreement made with farmers. According to them, the company is supposed to cut their sugarcane but some farmers are forced to hire cutters.

“I have five acres of sugarcane, when two acres out of five got burnt, I requested the company to cut the remaining three acres but they refused. I borrowed some money and harvested the sugarcane and supplied it to the company but since March they haven’t paid. My children are still home yet they are supposed to be at school.” she said.  

Zuriya Nyakahara Mbarirwa, the female District Councilor for Kiranfumbi Sub County, said the company should allow farmers to sell cane to other sugar companies if it cannot pay them in time.

“I want to tell you that this company does not allow  farmers to sell their sugarcane to other factories, in fact whenever a farmer sells his or her sugarcane to another factory, they arrest him or her but If they cannot listen to the concerns of the farmers. As a leader, I am going to mobilize farmers to look for a solution because they joined sugarcane growing to make profit and not losses,” she said.

Interviewed for a comment, Rajasekaran Ramaddu, the agriculture manager of Hoima Sugar Ltd, said, “I promise that we shall punish anybody engaging in this act of bribery, all we need is the farmers to provide us with evidence.” 

Ramaddu said the company has started paying the January, February and March arrears.

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