Ugandan farmer calls for help from world-renowned East Anglian sugar beet growers
PUBLISHED: 12:11 25 March 2018 | UPDATED: 12:11 25 March 2018
The global reputation of East Anglia’s sugar beet growers has reached East Africa – where an ambitious farmer has called for their help to grow the crop in his native Uganda.
Patrick Wilson Mawanda wants to become the first commercial sugar beet grower in his region, and hopes to find a UK mentor “to hold my arm to get started in this sweet business”.
He became particularly impressed with East Anglia’s growers after reading about people including north Norfolk farmer Martin Fisher, who grew a massive 15kg beet at Rookery Farm in Thurning, which was featured in the EDP in November.
Now Mr Mawanda wants to harness the expertise of this region’s growers, asking for advice on setting up a “viable commercial enterprise” to grow and process sugar beet in Uganda, including assessing which varieties would suit the climate and soil types, and determining the types of cultivation and harvesting machinery needed.
He is even interested in financial advice about investor partnerships, joint-ventures, land acquisitions which could help his grand ambition of setting up a sugar processing factory.
“So much has been said about the guys supplying sugar beets to British Sugar,” he said. “I have been very much impressed by stories about these folks such as Martin Fisher from Norfolk with a feat of over 40 years of direct encounter with sugar beet growing, and Michael Sly, of Cambridgeshire, whose family has been growing sugar beets for over 300 years. I am sure Paul Kenwood, the managing director of British Sugar should also be harbouring stories about sugar beets.
“I mean, these guys are really in the know of sugar beet raising and processing. Such is the scope of knowledge, partnership and joint-ventureship I am seeking to acquire in order to manage this very new and exciting venture on a large, commercial scale in our Ugandan society of peasant farmers.
“In my part of Africa, the East African region, there are apparently no commercial sugar beet growers. I believe there are favourable climatic conditions and plenty of fertile soils in Uganda meeting the healthy growth of a sugar beet crop. If sugar beets can grow well in the arid western US, they can do so even better in Uganda, at the source of the River Nile and the home of the giant Lake Victoria.”
Mr Mawanda is an electrical engineer by profession, but his upbringing has given him a passion for agriculture.
“Well, I am from a line of poor peasant farmers who brought me up together with seven other children, on their small ‘shambas’ (a Swahili word for gardens) cultivating all sorts of cultural crops, the likes of bananas, cassava, potatoes, beans, millets, sorghum, soybeans, peas, plus many others crops and fruits,” he said. “In addition to these, they also cultivated cotton and coffee as cash crops.
“All these were grown on small-scale plots of poorly-tilled pieces of land due to lack of mechanisation in those years of Uganda. The trend has not changed much up to these present times of the 21st century. We are still growing these same crops on our Ugandan soils in much the same way using the common hand hoe.”
Mr Mawanda said he decided to look into the possibility of growing beet instead of sugar cane to reduce the Ugandan dependance on imports for table sugar – a scarce resource which he called a “real golden commodity”.
“This has been so ever since I was a small boy growing up in rural Uganda, there has always been a scarcity of common table sugar,” he said. “Sugar in Uganda and neighbouring countries is a real golden commodity. The reason for this is that very small portions of land are used to grow sugar canes, which at the moment is the primary source of processed sugar for our daily lives in Uganda.
“Sugarcane requires large acreages to be a real beneficial source of income. So, most Ugandan peasant farmers can not afford to risk utilising their small pieces of land just to grow only sugar cane which takes so long to mature.
“On the other hand, sugar beets can be cultivated even twice a year by ordinary peasant farmers who can grow their customary crops inter-rotatably with other crops, an agronomical practice not possible with sugar canes. In other words, we can increase production of sugar by increasing acreage and diversification of sugar crops without undermining the other necessary food crops. I think this is possible with sugar beets.
“We can not simply sit and wait to depend on foreign sugar producers to meet Uganda’s, and Africa’s, needs. We can do it here on Ugandan soils. What we need is expertise and mutual joint cooperation with proven foreign partners to accomplish some of these humble tasks.”
• Are you a sugar beet grower who would like to help? Contact Patrick Wilson Mawanda on firstname.lastname@example.org.