Sugarcane growers in Salima and surrounding areas are expressing disappointment over Salima Sugar Factory’s delay to commence sugar production, saying the development is affecting anticipated revenue and preparations for the 2020/21 growing season.
The concern comes after the Immigration Department arrested 67 Indian nationals last month who were supposed to operate the factory machines.
The arrests due to the lack of work permits, occurred weeks after their arrival and they are currently answering the case of working illegally in the country.
The factory was initially supposed to start operating in April this year but only operated for two weeks in July before the arrest of the said Indians.
Sugarcane Growers Association of Malawi (Sugam) executive secretary Geoffrey Nkata said in an interview the delay is a huge concern to farmers as they are not selling their sugarcane to earn a decent living amid Covid-19 economic challenges.
He said the sugarcane business is very complicated since it is not easy to find a market for the produce considering that there are very few mills.
Nkata said: “We can foresee that this year there will be a lot of cane carried over to the next milling season. This is tragic for the Smallholder farmers who largely depend on the income from the sales of this sugarcane for their livelihood.
“We can only appeal to government to come in quickly to sort out the problems so that the mill can resume crushing the cane”.
Apart from the concerns on anticipated income from their sugarcane, farmers are also complaining that it is expensive to sustain the sugarcane fields to ensure sucrose levels in sugarcane do not diminish due to delayed harvesting.
Greenbelt Authority (GBA) spokesperson Maganizo Mazeze said that since the issue is still in court, GBA reserves its comment until the matter is resolved by the courts.
However, last week, the case was referred from the Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate’s Court to the High Court for judicial review in which the Indians were granted permission to resume work pending the court judicial review process.
This year, the factory plans to produce 25 000 metric tonnes of sugar from 15 000 metric tonnes produced last season.
The company grows its own sugarcane but also procures cane from about 250 small-scale sugarcane outgrowers and it has 3 500 employees with 200 on permanent employment while the rest are seasonal workers.