Illovo Sugar Malawi being hit hard by rampant theft of sugarcane and company equipment

Screenshot of the video that captured people stealing the sugarcane

* People are taking advantage of the desperate hunger situation the country is reeling of in this lean food insecurity season

* It was unfortunate that Illovo is being targeted in this way yet when need be, the company always reaches out to its neighbouring communities in times of disaster and serious food shortages

By Duncan Mlanjira

Illovo Sugar Malawi Plc, which is being hit hard by rampant theft of its sugarcane and company equipment — especially at its Nchalo Estate in Chikwawa — is engaging government to provide it with extra security as their own system is being overwhelmed.

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This was said at the company’s annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday after some shareholders asked why the annual report indicates that Illovo has spent more money on security system yet people from sorrounding communities keep stealing sugarcanes.

This follows some video clips that went viral on social media showing people in Nchalo rushing in and out of a field in broad daylight with the sugarcanes — with some gleefully posing with the loot, while shouting “Kuli njala (we are hungry, what else can we do to avert it”).

One concerned shareholder, Frank Harawa observed the high security expense in the annual report of the financial year ended August 2023, which Managing Director, Lekani Katandula explained that they have outsourced security matters to private companies and that some employees had to be retrenched — thus needed to be paid their terminal benefits and other related particulars.

Katandula further said they had to outsource security measures because it is not just theft of security they are faced with as they are also struggling with vandalism of their irrigation equipment and other infrastructure as well as arson acts of its fields.

Katandula explaining to the shareholders the security challenges they face

 


He added that they have a robust security system through the outsourcing but still members of the communities are infiltrating whilst noting that they are taking advantage of the desperate hunger situation the country is reeling of in this lean food insecurity season.

He further said it was unfortunate that Illovo is being targeted in this way yet when need be, the company always reaches out to its neighbouring communities in times of disaster and serious food shortages.

“We try to be very good neighbours with our sorrounding communities in Chikwawa and Dwangwa through our corporate motto of ‘Creating a Thriving Community’ in appreciation that we thrive also because of them.”

One other shareholder said it is unfortunate that the communities are taking hunger as a shield as if it is their freedom to do what they wished  and advised Illovo that they should be firm in engaging the government to assist with police services — hinting that there are elections next year and politicians tend not to be forceful in enforcing some laws that people deliberately break.

And on the lapse of security that community members could willy-nilly invade the fields to steal sugarcanes, chairperson of the Board, Jimmy Lipunga said it all boils down to the people’s lack of conscious to private property rights.

Jimmy Lipunga (left)

He also hinted that their disenchantment over some social and economic breakdown of the country is vented on Illovo as in the recent past two years, attention was on the company over increase of sugar prices as well as its scarcity on the market.

He said the company operates within the confines of fair trading and it also strides in positive image awareness by investing into public health, education, agriculture as well as empowering women participation up to top leadership level.

He thus asked the authorities that, since the Government also has a stake in Illovo Sugar Malawi through its contribution to tax adherence and other regulatory requirements, needs to engage the citizenry on private property rights awareness — not just for Illovo but for all other few remaining production industries.

In outsourcing some of its services, many companies thrive through Illovo such as machinery for harvesting sugarcane, the security measures, transportation — that contribute to job creations, among others.

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Meanwhile, traditional chiefs in Chikwawa have resolved to intensify awareness among their subjects so they will refrain from vandalizing Illovo sugarcane fields.

Senior Chief M’gabu of Chikwawa told Zodiak Online on Thursday that this has been agreed upon at the engagement the chiefs had with Illovo management at its Nchalo Estate.

In his annual report, Lipunga said Illovo commits itself “to making significant contributions to the Malawi fiscus through the payment of various taxes and regulatory commitments”.

“The group takes its role seriously in helping create a thriving Malawian community by providing employment and making social investments in the communities where our operations are located.

“In line with this commitment, the business contributed to the recovery efforts following Cyclone Freddy and the cholera outbreak, made donations to affected communities, and supported various educational, health and social initiatives in the country.

“Total spend on these activities for the year was K1.01 billion and in addition, the group made a deliberate decision to purchase most of its quality inputs from eligible local suppliers.”

The Board of Directors

He also announced that the share price for Illovo Sugar Malawi at the beginning of the financial year was K500 with a market capitalisation of K356.72 billion and at the end of the year the share price jumped to K1,121.42 while the market capitalisation appreciated to K800.07 billion.

“This exceptional movement in share price is supported by continuing financial performance improvements in the business,” Lipunga said. “It is our intention to continue creating long term value for our shareholders.

“Considering the excellent business performance for the year ending 31st August 2023, the directors are pleased to declare a second interim dividend of K20.80 per share,” he said, adding that a final dividend of K5.80 per share which was presented to the shareholders at the AGM their approval, will be paid this month of March.

This brings the total dividend for the year to K29.20 per share, compared to the previous year’s full dividend of K21.00 per share.

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