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Atiak Sugar: Gains, Loses as Factory Turns to Mechanised Production :: Uganda Radionetwork

Atiak Sugar: Gains, Loses as Factory Turns to Mechanised Production

The plantation has witnessed a series of fire outbreaks in the past years, which has affected its production. The company is reported to have lost Shillings 3 billion, according to Police annual crime report of 2020 following 2019 regular fire incidences. The December 2021, fire is projected to have caused the factory a loss of 3,000 of the 7,900 acre sugar plantations.
Some of the machines at Ataik Sugar Factory-Photo By Simon Wokorach

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Atiak sugar plantation ignited hopes for survival for thousands of the rebel Lord Resistance Army-LRA war victims in Amuru district who returned from captivity and joined the production where they provided cheap labor to the factory.  However, through the years, the Atiak sugar factory has failed to realize its maximum production because of multiple challenges notably, the wildfires in the plantations and the shortage of labor.

The plantation has witnessed a series of fire outbreaks in the past years, which has affected its production. The company is reported to have lost Shillings 3 billion, according to the Police annual crime report of 2020 following 2019 regular fire incidences. The December 2021, fire is projected to have caused the factory a loss of 3,000 of the 7,900 acre sugar plantations. The factory with a capacity of crushing 1650 tons of sugarcane then closed its operation citing the shortage of sugarcane for production.  

In June 2023, the company announced the resumption of operation with a new model that phased off the out-growers from production. In a recent interview, Bunty Seeruttun, the Director of Agriculture at Horyal Investment Holding Company disclosed that the Shillings 108 billion secured through a supplementary budget from the Parliament will cut off labor-intensive and promote mechanization in the production. 

The government through the Uganda Development Cooperation-UDC provided funding for road construction within the plantation, construction of irrigation, planting, and machines for harvesting sugarcane, which phased out growers. The factory requires 87 heavy-duty machines for these tasks. Forty-seven (47) have so far been delivered and according to Bunty, mechanized harvesting has the capacity to harvest from 60 to 110 tons of cane per hour compared to manual labor where a person can spend eight hours harvesting one ton.

The factory has equally embarked on irrigation to respond to the unreliable rainfall caused by climate change affecting the supply of water in the plantation, the dam is projected to store 2 million cubic meters of water in the plantation of 4,000 hectares.    

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The factory has approved a new initiative named ‘Horyal Foundation ‘which will replace the previous model of the out growers, the initiative is aimed at direct support to the people in the region according to Benson Ongom, the Director of Corporate Affairs at Atiak Sugar Factory. Once the initiative is launched, the Horyal Foundation is expected to give out direct support to farmers, which includes opening land, supplying cane seeds, and market for the cane. The company will deduct its investments from the farmers in the new model and leave them with profits.    

The Executive Director of Uganda Development Corporation Dr. Patrick Birungi noted, that by December 2023, the government shall have made all the deliveries of the machines for this planned mechanized operation and production.  The actual work is expected to resume through the opening up of land early next year. The comment is scheduled to kickstart sugar production between 2024 and the subsequent year. At least 70 percent of the labor force in the factory will be recruited from the region while the new model is aimed at scaling up mechanization in the factory by 85 percent.

Will the factory pay off Shillings 62 billion in compensation claims by the war victims?  

The plantation was a ray of hope to thousands of formerly abducted women who returned from the captivity of the Lord's Resistance Army and were recruited to provide labor to the factory.  The available data from War Victims and Children Networking in Uganda, the organization working with the former abductees, indicates that 1,200 war victims from the three Districts of Gulu, Amuru, and Lamwo were recruited to provide manual labor to Atiak sugar plantation between 2017 and 2018.   

The Executive Director of the Organization Stella Lanam told the Cooperator in a recent interview that the recruitment was done without a contractual agreement though a mutual agreement was reached with the factory to pay each employee 20 million shillings annually since 2018 which has accumulated to 60 billion but they group is also demanding additional 2 billion pay for forceful eviction from the factory. 

“I saw this problem from the very beginning when they ferried us to the farm for opening up the garden, some of the women were raped, and others suffered miscarriage and abortions due to hard labor but we kept on hoping that that the project would support our livelihoods for survival but see how we have ended now that we don’t even have a voice on what is going on in the factory even what we worked for wasn’t paid, “Lanam told  Uganda Radio Network in an interview.   

Grace Aciro would see a new beginning on the plantation like thousands of mothers who returned home a decade ago and continued with the endless search for reintegration and resettlement.  With three fatherless children she escaped with from the bush, Aciro cherished the opportunity to work in the factory with a ray of hope for supporting her struggling family and getting some money for surgery to remove the bullets lodged in her body.

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TRANSLATION: “If they are saying it’s the government to pay us then that doesn’t make us happy, not me alone but many of the mothers and they should know that we have gone through hard times and suffered a lot. What annoys us is that they(the factory) have worked with us as tools but it won’t go well with them in the factory out there…. I know sugarcane has been burning and the factory suspended its operation which is still struggling to resume …. we cry because we have suffered and shed blood and suffered…. (in captivity) … we are living with deformation and disabilities. When they took us to the factory, I thought I would relieve myself because I hoped to get some money and remove the bullets am living with after promising us good pay and the amount we would get from the factory……...”  

“The bomb struck me on the chest and the bullets retained until now, the gun powder also affected my sight but I hoped I would get some money and go for operations since I had lived in pain for nearly 20 years when I returned but the factory has evicted me without pay” Aciro further explained.  

Unresolved conflicts: what is the future of the new model?   

The factory asked for our amnesty cards, which we provided and they documented each of us and used our stories to win support for more funding from parliament who had no doubt that the factory would support us (war victims).

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The group has issued conditions to the factory demanding payment of the arrears and compensation for forceful eviction worth Shillings 2 billion and an additional Shillings 60 billion if the factory is to succeed in the new model of mechanized production.  

“If they can’t pay us, everything will come to an end because we can’t just sit back and watch what they are doing to us. Everyone knows that the factory has been making losses through fire outbreaks and this is a big problem to settle,” Lanam added.   

Amuru Resident District Commissioner, Stephen Odong Latek, mechanized production will help address the shortage of labor that the factory has experienced for a long which should be embraced for the success of the factory in meeting its required target and demand for production.   

“When you look at our population, there was no labor and the experience has shown us that there are two options, the labor intensive and mechanization but the labour intensive couldn’t give us the required outputs that is why mechanization is now adopted but it’s regrettable that people will have to lose their jobs because machines will replace them,” Latek explained.   

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Responding to the conditions set out by the aggrieved people, Latek noted that the government will look into the claims and see whether it is worth compensation but that will be treated case by case. “When the population presupposes that they can fight this new model then they can only do it when there isn’t and there isn’t governance, that condition is an empty scare. Let’s be rational and see if there is any reasonable claim that these out growers have worked in the plantation and supplied the factory sugarcanes and see why the government can’t pay them,” Latek further explained.    


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The government through Uganda Development Cooperation has so far injected Shillings 101 billion and owns 40 percent of the shares in Horyal Investment Company Holdings Limited, the entity behind the Sugar factory. Businesswoman Amina Hirse Moghe and her son Mohamoud Abdi Mohammed own 60 percent of the shares in an earlier report by this new Agency.   

In May 2018, when the government injected Shillings 20 billion, its share was 10 percent. However, in the same year, the government injected another Shillings 45 billion raising its shares to 32 per cent but the ongoing planned mechanized production has received support of Shillings 108 billion.    


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