Earth Finds

Earth Finds

Labour Externalization Sector Worried Due To Continued Business Prohibition

By Amon Baita

On 1st October 2020, Uganda reopened Entebbe International Airport and other entry points after President Yoweri Museveni eased on COVID-19 restrictions.

The news about reopening of borders threw players from various sectors of the economy in a frenzy of excitement as it brought a new ray of hope to many, hoping that it was time to recover and put the scars and fresh wounds of COVID-19 behind their backs and move forward.

 It’s a public secret that sectors like tourism, banking, hotels and transport, Media and Externalization of labour in Uganda have been hit hard by the effects of COVID-19 Lockdown.

However, since the reopening of Entebbe International Airport, Labour Externalization Industry which greatly contributes to national development through billions of remittances,  has remained closed with no official communication from government to lift the ban on labour externalization that came into force on 18th March 2020 by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development  and the subsequent closure of Entebbe International Airport and border points that initiated an end to international travel.

Our neighbouring country Kenya reopened their Externalized labour Industry last week with strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and guidelines aimed preventing spread of COVID-19 issued to the recruiting agencies.

The sector is now fully functional even when Uganda has been ahead of Kenya in suppressing COVID-19 in numbers of both infections and deaths registered.

 This means that Kenya has appreciated the value of Labour externalization industry and the need to move on and uplift the economy from effects of COVID-19 pandemic.

According to recent statistics, the annual remittances from over 165,000 Ugandan migrant workers in the Middle East alone into the country has grown to over $700m (Shs2.6 trillion) and domestically, the sector has also been contributing direct employment opportunities to over 4,000 Ugandans through the over 200 licensed labor externalizing companies.

Minister of State for Gender and Cultural Affairs, Peace Mutuuzo in July last year told parliament that the Middle East contributes over 50 per cent of total remittances earned by Uganda.

“Furthermore, the migrant workers in the Middle East are contributing substantially to their families through construction of houses and paying of school fees,” she said while responding to demands by a section of MPs who proposed that export of labour be suspended but that was before proper measures had been instituted to protect Ugandan migrant workers.

 The other benefits she highlighted included improvement in incomes of the migrant workers and acquisition of new and positive work ethics and skills.

There are other benefits the economy has greatly enjoyed through labor export like funds from several pre-departure training institutions and other numerous opportunities through back and forward linkages with sectors like hotels and Airlines transport.

Reports indicate that other Ugandans who wanted to seek employment opportunities abroad are now despondent.  About 5,000 Ugandans are externalized for work monthly. This means in the past seven months; 35,000 Ugandans have lost the opportunity to work abroad.

In revenue terms, the sector has been contributing huge revenue to the government agencies through purchase of passports, annual license, renewal fees from recruitment agencies, 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 that there’s an added requirement of COVID-19 CPR Certificate ,the more requirements the more money that comes to government without forgetting that all this money is not always  paid by Ugandans intending to travel because  it’s not an inter country transactions but direct remittances from destination countries into Uganda.

This translates into billions of shillings being lost by the government of Uganda for over 5,000 migrant workers that are externalized every month.

With all this contribution the sector brings to the economy however, Government has remained silent on the way forward ever since the borders and Entebbe International Airport were reopened and this is consistently sending the sector into shambles in many ways.

Currently, most of the labour exporting agencies have closed shop, suspended operations due to rent and salary arrears in their places of operations after they have spent the bigger part of year without working and this directly affects over 4,000 direct employees of these recruitment companies and their dependents.

Further, the closure of these companies has affected thousands of migrant workers that had been cleared to travel abroad before the lockdown. For example, about 960 workers, who were in transit (Cairo and Dubai, en route Middle East, etc.) were returned to Uganda due to stoppage of entry to the Middle East. This category is currently vulnerable and stuck with their Visas desperately waiting for a way forward from both government and respective recruiting agencies that they had dealt with but also this is without mentioning the costs many of them had incurred for travel process.

Many of the proprietors of recruiting agencies we contacted while compiling this article revealed that they are actually worried due to debts from bank loans.

 They decried that most recruitment companies have accumulated unpaid interest on loans acquired before the lockdown currently estimated at over Shs10bn exclusive of interest.

This means with the high interests on loans and loss of business, if some companies are not bailed out by Government, they will close hence loss of revenue to the Government.

There is also a growing concern within the sector that there is going to be increased cost of services involved in the recruitment process due to prolonged and expensive documentation requiring COVID-19 certificates and this lengthy process is likely to lead to human trafficking.

In an interview, Uganda Association of External Recruitment agencies (UAERA) Spokesperson, Ronnie Mukundane, said that he had just reported back to office but they were yet to receive a letter lifting the ban that was imposed by their line ministry when the country was setting into lockdown due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We however received a letter last month from our line Ministry of Labour guiding us on Occupational Safety and Health Standard Operating Procedures for Prevention of Transmission of COVID-19 at Work Places and we have since guided and sensitized our members on the way forward,” he said.

Some of the recruiting agencies visited while compiling this report like UAERA and Crane Chambers based Premier Recruitment had put in place Occupational safety and health Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS) in their places of work and are only waiting for a way forward from the ministry.

Letter: Sudhir Writes To Museveni Regarding Growing Of Marijuana

In a lengthy letter to President Yoweri Museveni, businessman Sudhir Ruparelia, the chairman of Ruparelia Group, has explained that the timing is now for Uganda to venture into the business of growing marijuana for medical purposes.

Ruparelia, whose Premier Hemp company is among the many that have applied for the license to start farming the herb that has hundreds of medical purposes. Below is the full letter.

 

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.

Six Easy To Follow Homeschooling Tips For Parents

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.

EMROD To Showcase World's First Long-Range Wireless Transmission Project

The Africa Energy Forum will host a special presentation on 21st October at 9am (UK time) by EMROD CEO and Founder Greg Kushnir, demonstrating the world's first ever long-range wireless transmission project, currently operating in New Zealand.

EMROD has developed the world's first commercially viable long-range, high-power, wireless power transmission as an alternative to existing copper line technology.

Emrod's technology works by utilising electromagnetic waves to safely and efficiently transmit energy wirelessly over vast distances.

"Being able to transmit high-power electricity without any cables is game-changing for the continent. It means barriers to energy-access are smashed and Africa could be fully electrified within ten years. This is the technology millions of people have been waiting for." Simon Gosling, Managing Director, EnergyNet

The company was founded by serial tech entrepreneur Greg Kushnir, who was determined to find a technology that can reduce power distribution costs, avoid outages and support renewable energy.

"We have an abundance of clean hydro, solar, and wind energy available around the world but there are costly challenges that come with delivering that energy using traditional methods, for example, offshore wind farms or the Cook Strait here in New Zealand requiring underwater cables which are expensive to install and maintain," said Mr Kushnir.

"I wanted to come up with a solution to move all that clean energy around from where it's abundant to where it's needed in a cost-effective, eco-friendly way."

Energy generation and storage methods have progressed tremendously over the last century but energy transmission has remained virtually unchanged since Edison, Siemens, and Westinghouse first introduced electric networks based on copper wires 150 years ago."

By significantly reducing infrastructure costs, Emrod's technology has the capacity to support remote communities such as in Africa and the Pacific Islands by providing access to cheap, sustainable energy to power schools, hospitals and economies.

"The data is compelling. We are talking about a potential 50 per cent increase in sustainable energy uptake, up to 85 per cent reduction in outages and up to 65 per cent reduction in electricity infrastructure costs due to the Emrod solution," said Kushnir.

"Since announcing Emrod's technology we have had a high level of interest from energy distribution and engineering companies from across the globe. We are progressing with some exciting opportunities to improve energy access for remote communities in areas such as India, Africa and Island Nations", added Kushnir.

The company has achieved strong interest from electricity distributors with Powerco, New Zealand's second-largest distributor deciding to invest in a proof of concept of the technology currently operational.

Kushnir commented; "The system we are currently building for Powerco will transmit a few kilowatts but we can use the exact same technology to transmit 100 times more power over much longer distances. Wireless systems using Emrod technology can transmit any amount of power current wired solutions transmit."

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