Soroti — When government announced grand plans for the construction of a multi-million fruit factory in Teso sub-region in 2012, to provide a ready market for citrus fruits, farmers received the news with exhilaration.
Upon purchasing from farmers, the fruits would be processed for value addition and better incomes.
The farmers had also hoped that the undertaking, whose commercial production was expected to begin last year, would open up more business opportunities and attract high returns through increased production. They thus opened up lands and grew both oranges and mangoes on a large scale.
“We grew mangoes and oranges in excess after government assured us of a ready market. We are, however, disappointed because we are counting losses since the factory has not started operations,” said Ms Christine Angiro, a citrus fruits farmer in Arapai Sub-county.
Ms Angiro grows both mangoes and oranges on a five-acre piece of land.
Teso sub-region comprises eight districts and is the leading producer of citrus fruits in Uganda.
Farmers were optimistic mangoes and oranges would be processed into ready-to-drink juice, to be sold within and the excesses exported beginning last year. The project has, however, faced some delays; slow release of funds by the Ministry of Finance, delayed procurement of factory equipment and construction works.
The government of Korea through the Korean International cooperation Development Agency, in 2012, entered a joint partnership with Uganda government to fund the venture through a grant.
The government would provide infrastructure such as the provision of land, extend water and power project and construction of roads.
A contractor, Hwanshin Uganda Ltd, was then awarded a 15-month contract for the construction of the Shs24b-project that would be handed over in May 2016.
During the ground breaking ceremony officiated by President Museveni in 2014, it was announced that construction of Soroti Fruits Factory located in Arapai Industrial Park in Arapai Sub-county, Soroti District would commence in 2016 and commercial production start in November in the same year.
Farmers speak out
Farmers are now frustrated that the project has not taken off.
Mr Daniel Okello, a farmer in Kamuda Sub-county in Soroti District, said he ventured into orange fruits growing hoping to make quick sales last year.
He said he has now made losses since middlemen are buying a bag of oranges between Shs40,000 and Shs50,000 and yet on a good day, a bag can cost as much as Shs100,000.
Mr Denis Obolia, another farmer and a resident of Otule village in Anyara Sub-county, Kaberamaido District told to Daily Monitor that because of market frustrations, he has decided to cut down his orange trees and replaced them with cassava and simsim which he said have a ready market.
Mr Jorem Opian, the newly elected chairperson of the Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union Ltd, told Daily Monitor in a recent interview that they have organised a stakeholders’ meeting in Soroti to be briefed about the progress of the factory by the technical staff of Uganda Development Cooperation (UDC) that undertook to construct the factory.
“We want to discuss the partnership between UDC and Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union Ltd and to highlight their roles,” Mr Opian said, adding that the meeting shall also seek to awaken the district production officers and commercial officers across the eight districts in Teso to mobilise for increased production.
The mandate of the union is to promote quality and quantity fruit production, value addition and marketing through government capacity building programme to the union members.
Some factory managers blame the delay on the lengthy procurement process of the factory machines.
The first consignment of equipment purchased from Italy is said to have arrived at the site and another consignment is yet to be purchased.
Mr Opian confirmed that the first consignment of equipment has already been delivered and installation is in progress pending the commissioning late this year.
Importation of the second consignment, he said, met some challenges at Mombasa Port in Kenya.
When installed, the factory has an annual production capacity of about 120 tonnes and 40 tonnes of oranges and mangoes respectively per day.
“The capacity of the farmers has not been felt to meet the current demands of the factory. Many of the activities are behind schedule” Mr Opian said, adding that the union has so far recruited only four extension workers instead of eight for the whole region given the paltry resource envelope.
Mr Opian said Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperation Union Ltd owns 20 per cent shares amounting to Shs2b while Uganda Development Cooperation (UDC) owns 80 per cent shares.
Ms Udaya Kandondi, Uganda Development Cooperation’s project manager, who is supervising the construction of the fruit factory, said they are on course and asked farmers to be patient.
Soroti District production officer Patrick Eyudu has asked local farmers to continue growing citrus fruits that will provide ready raw materials when the factory starts operations.
Following the recent long dry spell, Mr Opian said there is need for government to provide water for production and simple irrigation.
He said for two consecutive years, farmers have lost fruits to erratic climatic changes with pests and diseases accounting for about 50 per cent loss.
The farmers are also facing high cost of agro-chemicals and agro inputs making it difficult for them to better manage their farms.
During their recent visit to Teso, Members of Parliament on Agricultural committee, asked government to put in place an irrigation scheme policy after learning that some farmers’ fruits had dried up.