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Page added on June 29, 2008

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Uganda: Miller’s tale brings home burden of high fuel prices

It is Wednesday afternoon and there is only one customer at Robert Elunyu’s mill in Katine: a young man who has brought a basinful of dried cassava tubers for grinding. Elunyu is grinding the tubers as quickly as he can because the mill is powered by a generator and the longer it runs, the more diesel it uses. Across Africa, fuel is becoming prohibitively expensive.

Remarking on the lack of customers, Elunyu says it was markedly different 10 years ago when he first ventured into milling. Demand has plummeted because he is forced to pass on the rise in fuel prices to his customers, who can no longer afford to use the mill.

Electricity would be a much cheaper source of power, but Katine is still not back on the grid. In 2003, the connection was destroyed during the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency. According to a recent Unesco survey, approximately 20 per cent of Uganda’s urban population is connected to the national grid, but only 3 per cent of the rural population has access. The result is that rural areas are largely dependent on wood and, increasingly, petroleum.

Grain milling is an essential business in Katine and is crucial to the community. Traditionally, people in this part of Uganda eat atapa (millet or sorghum bread). Millet or sorghum grain is often mixed with cassava and taken to the mill where it is turned into flour. ‘When the fuel price was lower, I charged 350 shillings [10p] per basin,’ Elunyu says. ‘I now charge 500 shillings, except for maize, which is 1,500. The price of fuel has made it very difficult for us and the customers are now complaining that we overcharge them.’


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