Kampala, Uganda. Parliament on Tuesday tasked government to explain the continuous arrest and mistreatment of Ugandan farmers trying to sell their sugar cane in Kenya.
The House also questioned if the government was committed to the plight of sugar cane out-growers who are currently stranded with hundreds of tons of cane following the closure of sugar factories in Busoga sub-region.
The call follows a concern raised on the floor of the House on Tuesday by Bugabula South Member of Parliament Maurice Henry Kibalya. According to the MP, the farmers sought a market in Kenya in desperation after sugar manufacturers in Uganda failed to buy their cane.
“Our farmers are desperate and the only option they have is to sell their cane in neighbouring Kenya to earn a living from their harvested cane…but they are being arrested at the border by police attached to Customs,” said Mr. Kibalya.
“Ugandan farmers are not smuggling timber or tobacco to Kenya but they are taking their sugar cane there because of the ready market in Kenya and fair prices,” he added.
Kibalya told the House that farmers are stranded with hundreds of trucks packed at the factories of main sugar manufacturers in the country with no hope of selling anytime soon.
He was joined by other MPs from Busoga sub-region who said the out-growers have made several attempts to meet the Minister for Trade Amelia Kyambadde but failed.
This report angered MPs who accused government during the plenary of deliberately frustrating the out-growers and described the slow response from the government to the concerns as insensitive and aimed at further marginalizing the already poor farmers.
“The minister must explain, in whose interested are you sitting in that office,” asked Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal.
Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde’s attempts to explain efforts by her office could not hold and further angered the MPs who accused her of failing to solve challenges faced by sugar cane farmers in the country.
Amidst yelling from MPs, Minister Kyambadde then asked that her office be given time to verify the allegations of the arrest of Ugandan out-growers in Kenya.
The Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga questioned if the people of Busoga deserve the ill-treatment from the government.
“Sugar cane is what people in Busoga earn a living from, the fishing business on a large scale is no more in Busoga as the government took over the lakes. So what do you want the people of Busoga to do?” asked Kadaga.
“Kenyans have come here buy maize but they have never been arrested then why are they arresting Ugandan farmers,” added Kadaga.
Concerns over surplus cane from out-growers was raised in plenary two months ago and the Trade minister was tasked to address the distresses but no report has been made to Parliament on the matter.
In June, Chairman Uganda Sugar Manufacturers Association chairman Jim Kabeho explained that the manufacturers could not take cane due to surplus.
“Originally a ton of sugarcane was being bought at Shs125,000 but now manufacturers are willing to pay Shs100,000 per tonne,” he said. Adding, “But the farmers in Busoga region could not agree to (this price) and (yet) they have no option beyond that.”
According to the farmers.co.ke website, a tonne of sugar cane in Kenya is selling at Kshs4, 200 which is approximately Ushs152, 600, a price higher than that which manufacturers in Uganda are paying per tonne of sugar cane.
The government in June placed a ban on exporting cane. But farmers have defied this veto explaining that they needed to sell their sugar cane at a better price.