Photo: Ida Horner; Yossam Byaruhanga, sugarcane grower, Uganda
By Ida Horner
Ugandan entrepreneur, Ida Horner, attended the recent Villages in Action conference in Kikube, Masindi, Uganda, on behalf of Business Fights Poverty, the event’s sponsor. We asked Ida to meet up with some of the business owners in the village to get an insight into their businesses, the challenges they have had to overcome, and the difference their businesses have made to their lives. In the first of a series of three interviews, Ida meets Yossam Byaruhanga, a sugarcane grower.
IH: Can you tell me about the nature of your business?
YB:I been involved in sugarcane growing for the last 15 years and I am what is known as an out grower for the Kinyara Sugar Works Ltd part owned by the government (49%) and the Rai Group (51%).
IH: Can you tell me about this relationship
YB: If you are starting out Kinyara Sugar Works will provide you with a startup loan if you do not have any capital of your own. But at an interest rate of 23% you should not expect any return on the first harvest which is usually 18 months later. I have also noticed that since privatization the scales are tipped in favour of the Rai group.
IH: Can the farmers borrow this capital elsewhere?
YB: No, since most banks would not lend to sugarcane farmers and if they do the loans are on a short-term basis of 1-6 months and the interest is very high. In addition Kinyara provides services such as clearing the land, ploughing and harvesting which make part of the loan. As most growers do not have the heavy machinery to do this work themselves, they have no option but to turn to Kinyara.
IH: What about their land? Could farmers borrow against their land?
YB: Although land is easy to acquire it is not cheap. Some folk that have land do not own titles to that land and as such can’t borrow money from the bank against it. If you own land that has a title, the bank can lend against that land and the terms are usually reasonable.
IH: Is it easy to get a land title?
YB: It is a long winded process that involves the district council and your neighbours verifying that the land belongs to you. It is also a costly process.
IH: What about your day-to-day life?
YB: Day to day life is tough but we manage. If you are new to the business of Sugarcane growing, you make no profit at all off the first harvest. At the second harvest you are paid in installments of 10% and 90% and this is after 9 months of you selling your sugarcane to Kinyara Sugar works. As a sugarcane grower you almost always have to supplement your income in some way. I do it by growing other cash crops such as maize and ground nuts.
IH: How has your business impacted your day to day life?
YB: It has enabled me to put my 15 children through school and the eldest is currently at University, I pay for health care and put food on the table.
IH: What challenges do you face?
YB: Access to capital to grow the business, managing waste during the harvesting process, and lack of electricity in the village.
IH: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the sugarcane business?
YB: Before you get started ensure that you have your own capital and land, because renting land is a very expensive business
IH: Thank you for talking to me, Yossam, but before I let you go I am curious about a question you put to my colleague and me earlier. You wondered how you could get onto Twitter. Can you tell me a little more about that?
YB: The village people chose me as their Community Village Worker, I was sent on a training course organized by the Grameen foundation. As a community leader, I was given an Android phone and I use it to access information that is of use to farmers, such as diagnosing complications in poultry and providing information on recommended treatment.
I am also an avid listener of Voice of Africa and the presenters often invite listeners to participate via Twitter but because I don’t know how to Tweet, I can’t participate. That is why I would like you to teach me how to Tweet!
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