UGANDA – Cassava farmers in the Teso subregion, Uganda, urgently call on the government to strengthen protections for local investors under the ‘Buy Uganda Build Uganda’ (BUBU) policy.

This plea comes as the farmers find themselves with hectares of unharvested cassava following the suspension of operations by their main buyer, Lukonge Cassava Starch Factory.

The factory commenced starch production in 2021 with an investment exceeding US$2.5 billion and has halted production due to a significant drop in starch demand.

Currently, it has over 300 tonnes of starch in stock, unsold due to increased competition from imported starch.

The imports, primarily from Egypt and India, are entering the market tax-free, creating a substantial competitive disadvantage for local producers.

“In a month, we’re able to produce about 500 tonnes of starch out of the 1,500 tonnes consumed in Uganda,” explained Elly Wabwire, the production manager at Lukonge Cassava Starch Factory.

However, the factory has been inactive for the past four months due to unsold inventory, leaving farmers in a predicament.

The Teso subregion, where 99 percent of the population engages in cassava farming, had seen a significant boost in cassava cultivation due to the fair prices offered by the factory.

A kilogram of fresh cassava was sold for 2,000 UGX (US$0.54), encouraging many farmers to invest heavily in cassava farming. The factory processed 100 tonnes of cassava daily, translating to 20 tonnes of starch each day.

The abrupt halt in production has led to a steep decline in cassava prices, with middlemen exploiting the situation and buying cassava at just 1,000 UGX per kilogram.

This has left farmers like Gabriel Oronisi and Fabian Elungat struggling to make ends meet. Oronisi, expecting between 12 million and 15 million UGX from his four acres, now anticipates less than 4 million UGX.

Similarly, Elungat, who spent about 3 million UGX on cultivating his two acres, fears he won’t recover half of his investment.

“Our farmers are seriously suffering. Many parents are stuck with children due to fees, and generally, providing for families has become difficult,” said Stephen Legesi, the Pallisa district speaker.

In light of this crisis, the factory proprietors and local farmers are urging the government to intervene. They proposed imposing a 25 percent levy on imported starch to level the playing field for local producers.

We’re not saying the government should waive tax on us, but we feel there should be at least a 25 percent levy on imported starch,” Wabwire emphasized.

The call for government intervention underlines the critical need to bolster local production and protect the livelihoods of thousands of farmers in the Teso subregion.

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