Items filtered by date: Friday, 16 October 2020

COVID-19: Labour Export Companies Protest Ministry Ban

Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) has said that they will officially close business with immediate effect following the refusal by Ministry of Gender, Labour & Social Development (MGLSD) to lift the suspension of externalization labour. 

On 20th March by MGLSD suspended the externalization labour including the clearance of Ugandans travelling abroad to work in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. But with the resumption of international passenger flights and the reopening of Entebbe Airport, MGLSD said they have received many clearance requests for migrant workers intending to return to their workplaces abroad.

In response, the MGLSD is reviewing the current suspension of externalization of labour. As part of the review, MGLSD has written to the ministry of health and the National COVID-19 Taskforce for guidance on how externalization of labour can resume.

“This should, of course, be subject to fulfilment of COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures put in place by the government of Uganda and other authorities in the respective destination countries," MGLSD said in a public statement this week.  

But even if clearance is given by the ministry of health and the National COVID-19 Taskforce, MGLSD said they prefer the reopening to be phased. "The first phase will start with a clearance of all categories of migrant workers other than domestic workers," MGLSD stated.

This has not gone down well with labour externalization companies whose main speciality is dealing in the domestic workers. Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies says that there are more than 165,000 Ugandans who are gainfully employed in the Middle East through the domestic workers' program.

The Association’s chairman Baker Akantambira in a press statement on Friday revealed that remittances from migrant workers in the Middle East alone into the country have grown to over $700m. In Uganda, 200 licensed labour externalizing companies have provided employment opportunities to over 4,000 Ugandans domestically.

The sector, Akantambira said, has been contributing huge None Tax Revenue to government agencies through the processing of passports, VISA fees (income to other countries, Interpol charges (98% of the Interpol Letters are from labour recruiting companies), bank charges and vaccination payments against yellow fever of Shs100,000 per person and now the recently introduced COVID-19 PCR Certificate fee.

But due to COVID-19, most of the licensed recruitment companies have closed shop, suspended operations due to rent, salary arrears and other operating costs in their places of operations after they spent the bigger part of the year without working and this has directly affected over 4,000 direct employees of these recruitment companies and their dependents.

Akantambira noted that there is also a growing concern within the sector that the prolonged closure of legal labour migration is fueling an increase in human trafficking as has been witnessed since the airport was opened on 1st October 2020.

Akantambira has also expressed concern that many a time the ministry takes sweeping decisions without engaging the respective labour companies directly or through their Association. The move, he says, by the ministry to unilaterally undertake measures directly affecting the labour companies is disturbing even though the suspension of externalization of labour was inevitable.

And for that matter, they have decided to suspend their operations until they reach an understanding with the ministry. The Association argues that the proposed phased reopening of the sector in the manner proposed is as good as extending the suspension.

"Moreover, in all this, neither the labour companies nor their leadership under the Association are being consulted," Akantambira said.

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Medical Marijuana: Sudhir Ruparelia Writes To Museveni With Suggestions

Below is a letter businessman Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia has written to President Yoweri Museveni asking the head of the nation to allow the licensing of companies intending to participate in the farming of medical marijuana.

Your Excellency, I believe you very well recall the vanilla ‘madness’ of 2002-2005 when Ugandan farmers got rich overnight in Mukono and Masaka; those good old but shortlived days when vanilla almost became like gold.

We all remember when farmers in had to spend nights in their gardens, guarding their golden harvests from thieves; when traders started fighting each other over who should buy from which farmer and at some point, government had to intervene.

For those who are not aware, this sudden vanilla fortune was driven by two occurrences, thousands of kilometers away, in Madagascar, one of the world’s largest producers of vanilla.

The island nation was struck by two successive cyclones in one month- Tropical Cyclone Kesiny in May 2002 (Northern Madagascar) and Tropical Cyclone Manou in the South East, killing people, destroying transport infrastructure and thousands of acres of crops, especially the prized vanilla.

Global vanilla markets reacted and Uganda overnight went from nearly a zero exporter of vanilla to earning USD7.8 million in 2002 and USD11.5 million in 2003. Farmers and traders, became millionaires overnight.

Subsequent storms like, Cyclone Gafilo in March 2004 and Cyclone Dora, Indlala and Jaya that hit Madagascar between 2006 and 2007 kept Uganda in vanilla business, but sooner Madagascar recovered and took back its vanilla markets.

It was instead time for Ugandan vanilla farmers to be hit by financial storms and cyclones. It had to take another major storm- Cyclone Enawo in March 2017 to hit Madagascar, followed by Tropical Cyclone Kesiny in Northern Madagascar in May 2017 for Ugandan farm gate prices to rise to as much as UGX170,000-200,000 per kilo! Again Uganda had another windfall with national export earnings jumping 295.2% from USD3.2 million in 2016 to USD12.7 million.

But soonest Madagascar began recovering, prices went down and in 2018, Uganda’s export earnings fell to USD8.2 million and fell further to USD4.47 million in 2019. Well, we do not know when the next cyclone will come for Vanilla farmers to enjoy yet another rich season but one lesson we can learn from the above is the power of being a first mover.

A first-mover advantage can be simply defined as the ability to beat of competition as a result of being the first to go to market with a new product category. Of course, how lasting this advantage gets, depends on many other things like a good investment and regulatory climate, among other variables.

Coming back to East Africa, this week, it was all over the news that Rwanda will start receiving applications for licenses to grow medical marijuana for export, following an October 13th cabinet meeting that approved the regulatory guidelines on the cultivation, processing and export of high-value therapeutic crops.

Other countries in the region, including Uganda are also at various stages of approval of the growing of medical marijuana. While we are not attempting to compare Uganda with any other country, as we are a unique and independent country, it is also a market reality that the global medical marijuana market, estimated to reach between USD40 billion and USD45 billion by 2025, is not unlimited.

The early birds will certainly catch the most and possibly the biggest worms and like in the case of Madagascar and vanilla elaborated above, will hold onto this advantage for many years to come.

Those that will come on the next wave, will have to play second-fiddle, hoping and praying for some storms of some kind so they can gain some short-lived windfalls. If there is anything that Covid-19 has taught the markets, it is the danger of relying on the same sets of traditional sources of income.

In the case of Uganda, tourism, Uganda’s largest forex earner is on its knees and is not expected to recover fully until 2003 and beyond- and this presupposes a vaccine is discovered sooner than later.

Although coffee export earnings, according to statistics from Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and Bank of Uganda are on the path to recovery, this is only because we exported more bags of coffee, otherwise prices are still on the low.

According to UBOS, although monthly earnings from coffee exports reached a record high of USD419.5 million in July 2020, this was because Uganda exported 540,000 bags the highest monthly export quantity since 1997.

It is also worth noting that average prices also fell to USD1.53 in July and USD1.48 August- a record lowest in about 10 years. According to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), world global coffee consumption is expected to reduce as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to put pressure on the global economy and the lockdowns adding more pressure on out-of-home coffee consumption.

This according to ICO, the intergovernmental organization for coffee exporting and importing governments, including Uganda, has left the global markets with a surplus of about 1.54 million bags.

This, surplus, added to another 4.4 million bags carried over from the 2018/19 season, will according to ICO continue holding back global price recovery. ICO reported that World Coffee prices in September 2020 remained at an average of US cents 116.25 per pound.

Although a little higher than the average US cents 107.25 for the 2019/20 coffee year, it was still way below the 10-year average (2007 and 2018) of US cents 135.3 per pound. Elsewhere as coffee farmers and traders continue to feel the pinch, other traditional Ugandan exports are also under pressure.

 A comparison of export earnings of the 6 months before Covid-19 (September 2019-February 2020) and the 6 months after Covid19 (March-August 2020) also shows declining export revenues on many other agriculture exports, almost all of them double-digit. Significant declines were from: Cotton (-65.3 %), Tobacco (-63.5 %), Fish (-30.4%), Hides & Skins (-47.1%), Maize (-28.3%), Beans (-41.7%) and Cocoa (-17.3%).

The Only Exceptions, Which Grew, Were: Fruits & Vegetables (+31.3%), Tea (+5.6%) And Flowers (+19.2%) – but again the devil could be in the details.

 Your Excellency, if there is one lesson we should pick from the Covid-19 crisis is the need to not only add value (like you have always emphasized to especially the bazzukulu), but even more importantly the need to diversify.

Value addition and diversification are important because, truth be said, some markets for some of our agriculture products are over saturated. Even with value-addition, we can only go far, because we do not have much competitive advantage.

That is why we believe Uganda has a real opportunity to establish both a competitive and a fast-mover advantage in the medical marijuana for export business- we have the right climate and more arable land than most, if not all our neighbours combined.

If we miss this opportunity, we may probably never catch up. Medical Marijuana is a whole new industry, a game-changer. Global Research firm Nielsen predicts that by 2025, sales of all legalized cannabis in the U.S. alone will reach $41 billion. Medical marijuana for export will not only create new revenue streams for the country, but it will also spur many other local value-addition sectors and thousands of jobs.

Your Excellency, the private sector has been ready since 2018 and we believe that now, more than ever, there are all reasons to fast-track legislation on medical marijuana production, to give Uganda competitive edge.

The Ruparelia Group, one of the largest commercial agriculture players that controls over 40% of the cut flowers export market, registered Premier Hemp Limited in July 2018. We are ready and willing to leverage our expertise in commercial agriculture to grow this golden crop on a large and for-export-only scale.

But we are not alone, 20 other companies have applied for licenses as provided for under Section 11 (1) of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 2016 and are waiting for clearance and written consent of the Minister of Health. Will there be challenges and mistakes along the way?

Yes, like any other new industry, there will be very many challenges, but as you rightly told Uganda on June 08th 2017, during the reading of the 2017/18 budget: “Failing is part of success. Therefore, we shall learn from our mistakes, and keep trying until we succeed.”

Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia is the founder and Chairman of Ruparelia Group and Rajiv Ruparelia is the Group Managing Director. The Ruparelia Group is one of Uganda’s largest business conglomerates with investments in financial services, real estate, education services, hospitality, agriculture and media/broadcasting.


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Here Are Homeschooling Tips Every Parent Should Know

Uganda has over 15 million students in different institutions of learning according to the Ministry of Education and Sports. As a way of controlling the spread of COVID-19, only 10 percent of these learners who are mainly finalist students will be reporting back to school starting October 15th 2020 leaving the majority at home.

The Minister for Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance Honourable Judith Nabakooba in a recent media address urged continuing students to take homeschooling seriously as it could determine their promotion to the next class.

Now more than ever before, parents are going to find themselves having to go beyond periodically helping their children with homework and other such class assignments to ultimately managing their children’s education from home.

Despite its novelty in many homes in Uganda, homeschooling has many benefits; parents get to spend more time with their children, track their scholastic progress, control the child’s pace of learning and monitor their children’s diets.

However, if not well structured, homeschooling can be challenging for both parents and students especially when parents have more than one child and have to juggle homeschooling with work and house chores.

In this article, we share 6 tips on how to effectively organize the homeschooling experience and ensure that children are on track with the curriculum.

  1. Create a designated homeschooling space

Living and learning under one roof can be stressful if not well organized. In order to avoid confusion and having to always clear up spaces for study which can waste a lot of time, keep your children’s study materials in one designated specific learning space.

  1. Design and follow a specific homeschooling schedule

Make a specific homeschooling schedule for your child or children if you have more than one. The schedule should allot time for different subjects as well as the duration of study as well as study breaks for snacks and physical exercise so that students are not constantly bombarded with books.

Try as much as possible to work the homeschooling schedule around your other responsibilities such as house work and career. As well, engage children while developing the schedule and show them the allotted times for breaks, screen time and other activities such that they are also involved with the whole process.

  1. Work with your children’s teacher or school to map out the curriculum

Mapping out the curriculum will help you track the progress of your child therefore do not be afraid to call up your child’s teacher or school official for ideas on how best to follow the curriculum from home in order to make the learning process simpler.

  1. Emphasize good nutrition for your homeschooled child

Learning is an intense activity that requires good nutrition for a child to concentrate better. Try as much as possible to include nutritious foods into your child’s diet in order to ensure that they are focused and happy learners.

Fresh Dairy products such as flavoured yoghurt, Brookside fruit yoghurt, flavoured milk, long life UHT milk, TCA (Triangular) long life milk are appropriate choices because they are not only handy and ready-to-drink but are also nutrient rich with energy, carbohydrates, proteins, fat and calcium among others.

  1. Look for learning opportunities beyond text books

Homeschooling is a great experience to bond with your child and to teach them life skills that can only be learnt outside class. These can include baking, cooking and money management among others therefore use this opportunity to teach your child these skills that they will need when they are in and out of school.

  1. Collaborate with other homeschoolers

Help, supervise and encourage your child connect with his or her classmates online in order to facilitate peer interaction. As well, as a parent collaborate with other homeschooling parents in order to get resources that can enrich the homeschooling experience for you and your child.

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