Teso Fruit Factory Accused of Sabotage

By Julius Odeke

“President Museveni should negotiate with his Rwandan counterpart President Paul Kagame and let them open the borders so that we can access the Rwandan market.”

Jorem Opian Obicho, the chairperson, Teso Tropical Fruit Growers Cooperative Union has urged the management of Soroti fruit factory to respect the union by allowing the union act as a middle man on the issue of buying oranges.

He says the fruit factory is sabotaging the operations of the union and it is demoralising citrus farmers in the region by buying their oranges at a cheaper price. “The factory has taken the advantage of lack of a business competitor and it is now buying a kilogram of oranges at Shs200 as opposed to Shs400 that the union offers.

“As a union, we have 59 primary cooperatives only allowed supplying 59 nine lorry loads.

Farmers can supply 800,000 tonnes but realistically, Teso produces over One million tonnes per year. And yet the factory only takes 300,000 tonnes less by 750,000 tonnes.”

According to Obicho, the 59 primary cooperatives are drawn up from the 59 sub-counties in Teso sub-region and are all credible farmers with good reputation to farming, whom he says need government’s intervention on the issue of pricing of their oranges.

You cannot compare the tonnes that the factory currently consumes with the production of oranges in the region. Even the political leadership in Teso too, cannot understand the dynamics of citrus market.

The factory was built alongside the Korean Government at the cost of Shs30bn and it was launched by President Yoweri Museveni on April 13, 2019. The president advised farmers in Teso to grow more fruits saying, “They are medicinal as well.”

President Yoweri Museveni inside the Soroti Fruit Factory after its launch. PHOTO BY JULIUS ODEKE

However, since then, many farmers have grown many oranges that have resulted in the absence of the market since the uptake of the factory is too small to consume what is produced.

The launch of the Soroti fruit factory as a subsidiary of Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) which has a shareholding of 80 per cent while farmers have a paltry 20 per cent was the president’s benchmark to launch the corporation’s 10-year plan of 2020-2030.

Farmers are now blaming UDC for using the factory to buy their fruits at Shs200. Obicho says Shs200 cannot help farmers recover the cost of farming and to sustain their domestic demands.

“The the propensity to produce oranges in Teso has superseded the supply-demand but very few people have understood this. It’s critical that government begins thinking outside the box by bringing other investors to support farmers in Teso, Teso has the highest cooperative advantage in the production of oranges,” Obicho says.

According to him, the union supplies the factory with oranges at Shs600 per kilogram, but we pick oranges from farmers at Shs400 leaving the union with a small margin of Shs200 for administrative expenses like packaging and transporting.

“The the union has told farmers that let us supply oranges to the factory as union but some individual farmers have refused the idea saying they want to deal directly with the factory and are now selling at Shs200 per kg which is disadvantaging farmers because their status
has not changed,” adds Obicho.

“Can you imagine Soroti Fruit factory a brainchild of citrus farmers in Teso is buying a bag of oranges at the cost of Shs20,000. Yet it was the union that was supposed to buy at Shs80,000 the same bag,” exclaims Obicho.

New variety of oranges planted by Peter Ochom, 67, in Nyero sub-county in Kumi district. PHOTO BY JULIUS ODEKE

James Elianu the chairperson of Aipecitoi Fruits Growers Association in Kyere sub county in Serere district says some farmers have been frustrated by little market and are now beginning to cut down their orange trees to allow them cultivate other economically viable crops.

For example, we’ve one farmer, John Onapito in Serere who can supply the factory once given an opportunity 40 tonnes of oranges except he is not a union member, says Elianu.

“In my association, we have 150 farmers and one farmer has at least five acres of oranges. They are now dropping down because nobody is coming to buy them,” he said.

The union boss says, “The issue of oranges in Teso shouldn’t be looked at as only for Teso but a national issue where the government should be able to negotiate with countries like Kenya and Rwanda to come and buy the oranges and also to expand the factory’s absorption of oranges.”

The understanding of the community is that the factory can take everything that is grown as far as citrus fruits are concerned.

“It is not the case. The factory’s consumption is limited and there is need for government to rethink its strategy and again constructs other factories in Teso, in case Government want to alleviate poverty among the farmers in this region,” Obicho added.

There are other buyers who go directly dealing with farmers and they are buying oranges cheaply and this has caused uproar among farmers. People are desperately in need of selling their oranges at least at a price that can help them.

Douglas Ndawula the chief executive officer when contacted for a comment said, “I’m temporarily in a festive leave. We broke off for a leave, so I cannot comment.”

Obicho says, “If you went to the factory on the working day, you meet hordes of people gathered at the factory like vultures seeking the management of the factory to buy their fruits even as cheap as Shs200. This is so because they have nowhere to take their fruits.”

“I therefore appeal to the government not only to look at this as the problem for the people of Teso. When you go to Western Uganda say Mbarara, you will see oranges from Teso being sold there, so this is a national issue that Government should involve itself in it,” the union
boss add.

It’s unfortunate to see that the factory which is the brainchild of farmers is now buying oranges at Shs200 per kilogram.

Obicho says, “The factory does not weigh the oranges in a weighing scale. They simply buy a tall bag of oranges at Shs20,000 against the price that we as a union have offered of Shs80,000.”

Shamim Napakol Osekeny, a citrus farmer from Kachede village in Bukedea district says, “a tall bag of oranges is fully 200 kilograms and it is being bought at Shs20,000.”

She wonders why government is looking on as farmers are being cheated in broad day light. “There was no need to tell people to grow oranges, for it has no economic gain to the farmers,” she added.

Napakol remembers the honeymoon that orange farmers had at the time when businessmen from Rwanda used to come and but their oranges at Shs150,000 per bag.

“President Museveni should negotiate with his Rwandan counterpart President Paul Kagame and let them open the borders so that we can access the Rwandan market.”

Also read:

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Aica Media [pronounced as Aicha- an Ateso word which means Light] is a for profit youth driven media initiative in Uganda, with an aim to advocate for acceleration of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through media. Started in 2019, Aica seeks to inspire media practitioners to leverage their knowledge and resources to advance the SDGs by disseminating facts, human stories and solutions. Aica is authorized to do online data communication and publication by the Uganda Communications Commission and we are a member organization in the Uganda Youth Coalition for SDGs.

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