The simmering tension between smallholder sugar cane growers and Salima Sugar Company Limited–triggered by the latter’s alleged “inability” to buy at least 20 000 tonnes of sugarcane belonging to the former–prompted Agriculture Minister Lobin Lowe to intervene on the matter on Wednesday afternoon in order to find a long lasting solution that would pacify both sides.
The minister who, with his entourage, were engrossed in a lengthy discussion with the management of Salima Sugar Company at their factory in Salima District–told the smallholder sugarcane growers after the meeting that government is in “cordial talks” with the sugar company in order to assist them.
“Keep calm because your sugarcane will be bought. Government will not allow that you toil in vain,” Lowe told scores of the growers who were hopefully waiting for him outside the factory.
Salima Sugar Company, in partnership with the Government of Malawi through Green Belt Authority (GBA) in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement, has 60 percent shares in the sugarcane growing and processing business stretching across 6000 hacters of land along the shores of lake Malawi in Salima.
Nyasa Times understands that out of those hacters–4000 are the core land for growing of sugarcane by Salima Sugar Company and GBA, 1000 is meant for medium scale farmers, 550 is for small holder growers and 450 for other developments.
Apparently, Salima Sugar Company and GBA, are currently using only 1000 out of their 4000 hacters.
From 2017 to 2019, the sugar company, due to “shortage of sugarcane” in its concession area, bought sugarcane from smallholder farmers, raising hopes of continuing improved livelihoods among these poor growers.
However, this time around, the company says it would buy sugarcane from the smallholder farmers until April next year, a pronouncement which has angered the growers for they feel their future and livelihood are being defiled.
The sugar company cites three reasons for making its decision and these are; It already has enough sugarcane to process–170,000 tonnes, Covid-19 effects and that work at the factory was interrupted by the recent 21 day detention of its 67 foreign employees.
However, speaking during Wednesday’s meeting, Controller of Agriculture Services, Dr Masankho Bulirani, said the company’s decision to buy farmers sugarcane in April is catastrophic because the sugarcane cannot actually stand even the next two weeks–an observation which attracted approval from Salima North West Parliamentarian Enock Phale.
Noel Mateyu, Chairperson for the five cooperatives of the smallholder sugarcane growers, also concurred with Bulirani, adding that this is absolutely not fair.
“We ask government to pile more pressure on Salima Sugar Company so that they buy our sugarcane. The sugarcane is already drying up. And the farmers will lose a lot. This will lead to high levels of poverty,” said Mateyu.
MP Phale actually blames the expansion of sugarcane growing within the concession area for Salima Sugar Company, saying the company did not engage smallholder growers on its future plans.
“If they now wanted to concentrate on their concession, they could have told our people, who they initially motivated, to stop growing sugarcane. They could have advised them to start growing other cash crops. Otherwise, this may be a great loss,” he observed.
During the meeting, Lowe and his entourage, proposed that Salima Sugar Company should take on board the 20,000 tonnes of the smallholder growers and forgo to April 50,000 of their 170,000 tonnes, saying their sugarcane is, after all, under irrigation.
Apparently, the smallholder farmers sugarcane is rain fed and cannot survive under the current hot weather.
Chairman for Salima Sugar Company, Shirieesh Betgiri, refused to talk to the press after Wednesday’s meeting.
However, during the meeting, he told minister Lowe that government should also consider taking “some liability” in resolving the issue especially in view of the Covid-19 effects and the loss of work during the detention of his company’s employees.
Participants to the meeting then agreed to continue their discussions on Friday and then present a report of their resolutions to minister Lowe by next Monday 10am.
Lowe, who later toured some parts of the sugarcane plantation, emphasized the will of the Tonse Alliance regime to uplift smallholder sugarcane growers.
“We will ensure that they continue to benefit from this plantation and the factory. You may wish to know that most of these people around here, abandoned other cash crops such as tobacco because they thought sugarcane is their new gold,” Lowe said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :