By Our Reporter
MASINDI: Kinyara Sugar Ltd. is reportedly harvesting immature sugarcane over alarming cane poaching in Masindi district.
According to the Deputy Agriculture Manager at Kinyara Sugar Ltd., Sam Rugambwa, they are currently harvesting the sugarcane aged between 14 and 15 months, compared to the initial age of 20 months.
He explains that they have been forced to harvest sugarcane at the above age bracket due to the rampant sugarcane poaching in the district.
The company’s deputy agriculture manager asserts that poachers are reportedly coming from the neighboring districts of Kyejonjo, Luwero, and others to steal the company’s sugarcane either from their gardens or they connive with the farmers.
Rugambwa notes that though the company established more fields to tackle the challenge of limited sugarcane, they have been forced to harvest their canes at a tender age since the poachers also target their sugarcanes, and this has affected their production.
On this note, Rugambwa says they are losing about 2,000 hectares of sugarcane annually to poaching, which is equivalent to one month of crashing, thus losing over 50 billion shillings annually, which is a great loss both to the community, company, and government.
‘’Though we have put in place mechanisms to tackle the poachers, like deploying our security personnel in our fields, poachers still connive with them to steal our sugarcane,’’ he explained.
In the 2020/21 financial year, Kinyara Sugar Ltd contributed 53.8 billion shillings to the national economy in the form of taxes, compared to 118.9 billion shillings that were paid in the financial year 2016/17 before poaching started.
The General Manager for Kinyara Sugar Ltd., Ravi Ramalingam, says due to cane poaching and scarcity, they have reduced the quantity of crashing sugarcane in order to work within their means.
He is now worried that if the government doesn’t intervene, the company may fail to break even and eventually close, leading to the loss of jobs and revenue for the government.
What others say
The Masindi district LCV Chairperson, Cosmas Byaruhanga, attributes the harvesting of immature sugarcane and poaching in the district to the shortage of sugarcane in the country and the establishment of more sugar factories in the region and the neighboring districts.
He, however, notes that farmers incur losses when they harvest immature sugarcane. Byaruhanga also attributes the harvest of immature sugarcane to the unbalanced sugarcane price in the country, something he attributes to cane poaching since farmers incur expenses in buying fertilizer and preparing cane fields.
‘’I think Kinyara Sugar Ltd should revise the cane price and start paying farmers in cash like other factories because this drags farmers to start selling their cane to other factories, yet they have a contract with Kinyara Sugar Ltd.,’’ he suggests.
The Chairperson for Masindi Sugarcane Farmers Association Limited (MASGAL), Robert Atugonza, acknowledges that there are poachers who harvest sugarcane belonging to farmers who signed contracts with Kinyara Sugar Ltd., while others pick sugarcane dumped along the road.
He has therefore warned farmers against selling sugarcane to other factories when they have a contract with Kinyara Sugar Ltd or selling canes that don’t belong to them, noting that they are in negotiations to revise the current sugarcane price of 160,000 shillings.
According to the Member of Parliament representing Bujenje Constituency, Kenneth Kiiza Nyendwoha, there is a scarcity of sugarcane in the country, which he attributes to increased sugar factories and the skyrocketing price of fertilizers.
He also notes that in the last four years, farmers have not been applying fertilizers to their sugarcane plantations, thus causing the low yields.
Nyendwoha told this publication that recently he wrote to the management of Kinyara Sugar Ltd to start supporting farmers with fertilizer in order to improve the yield.
When asked whether the price Kinyara Sugar Ltd is paying farmers is not sufficient compared to other companies, Sam Rugambwa, the deputy agriculture manager, said that currently, farmers are being paid 160,000 shillings per ton, yet the cost of producing each ton is 70,000 shillings, so farmers enjoy a profit of over 80,000 shillings per ton.
On December 21, 2021, police in Masindi district impounded four Tata lorries for reportedly ferrying poached sugarcane belonging to Kinyara Sugar Factory.
According to the press statement released by the company, the four trucks with registration numbers UBH 009Q, UBJ 152 G, UBJ 150 G, and UBG 578X were intercepted by the sugar company security operatives as the drivers attempted to stealthily ferry sugarcane from Field 4 and 8 Estate Butobe at Butobe village in Bikonzi sub-county, Masindi district.
The incident took place at around 11:45 p.m. on Wednesday, December 21, 2021.
The statement added that the trucks had been loaded and were ferrying about 90 tons of sugarcane valued at 7.956 million shillings.