Uganda: Tobacco Growers Protest Over Non-Payment of Shs1b

Hundreds of tobacco farmers in Kakumiro District have protesting the non-payment of Shs1b for the tobacco supplied to five companies six years ago.

The farmers, who were contracted in 2014, 2018 and 2019, said they supplied tobacco to Nimatabac (U) Limited, Continental Tobacco (U) Limited, Tropical leaf Tobacco, Premier Garden Tobacco (U) Limited and Agamwe Leaf Tobacco Limited.

They on Monday marched around Kakumiro town but police thwarted their protest.

Led by Mr Godfrey Serugo, the chairperson of the tobacco farmers in the greater Kibaale, the farmers said they have for long appealed to the government to compel companies to pay them in vain.

"Parliament sent a team here to investigate our matter and promised to send another technical team to verify why our payments were delayed. After several attempts to have these companies pay us, the State minister for Bunyoro Affairs, Mr Ernest Kiiza, was assigned to handle our issue and to date, there are no signs that we will be paid," Mr Serugo said.

Mr Godfrey Bagonza, a tobacco farmer, said when President Museveni was in Hoima in 2019, he directed the Finance ministry to ensure that the farmers' payment is cleared.

"These companies were licensed by the government and it should compel them to pay our money. We have been struggling with these companies but the government has not done enough to have our money cleared," Mr Bagonza said.

Demand note

The former Kakumiro District chief administrative officer, Mr Monday Stephen, on June 29 submitted to the Permanent secretary of the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, claims of non-payment of farmers for three crop seasons worth Shs1.077b.

Mr Stephen noted that the total value of the farmers' claims was Shs919, 333, 901 and that Shs157,857,150 is being claimed by service providers.

He recommended for an audit into the farmers' claims before payment is processed to ensure accuracy and proper accountability.

Companies respond

Mr Silver Kyamanywa of Agamwe Leaf Tobacco Limited said the company has a payment plan and that they will clear the farmers.

Mr Leo Sekate, an extension worker at Premier Garden Tobacco (U) Limited, admitted that the company had not paid a specified number of tobacco farmers.

He attributed the deadlock in the payment process to the death of the company director.

"I personally supplied tobacco to the company and I am yet to be paid," Mr Sekate said.

Mr James Walugembe, an extension worker with Continental Tobacco (U) Limited, said his top bosses promised to communicate their payment plan but the process was halted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

GOVERNMENT RESPONDS

The Kakumiro District commercial officer, Mr George Mutakooha, said: "When we wrote to the Ministry of Trade, we were told that they are also waiting for several reports from other affected farmers in different districts."

The Kakumiro Resident District Commissioner, Mr Apollo Mugume, called for calm saying that the matter is before relevant authorities.

Minister Kiiza while addressing the affected tobacco farmers and stakeholders in Kakumiro in June said government would intervene.

"I can assure you the money will come as quickly as possible for as long as we have a genuine list, " Mr Kiiza said.

Many people in the Bunyoro sub-region depend on tobacco and cotton growing for income.

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