By Arnest Tumwesige, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Kitgum,Uganda – Uganda Prisons Service has stepped up efforts to implement President Yoweri Museveni’s directive to start large scale growing of cotton as a strategy to revamp the textile industry in Uganda.
Dr Johnson Byabashaija, the commissioner general of prisons, said in January 2015, president Museveni gave them a target to grow cotton on 44,000 acres and this is going to be achieved gradually.
“When the president visited Rwimi prison farm where we are planting maize, he directed prisons and army to engage in cotton growing. What was just like a directive turned out to be policy in 2016,” Byabashaija said.
Speaking during the launch of cotton growing at Orom-Tikao Main Prison in Orom sub-county,Kitgum district last week, the commissioner said the policy implementation begun with 261 acres as pilot in 2016.
However, prisons had to partner with the Cotton Development Authority for technical support and in the subsequent year, the cotton acreage increased to 2,369.
Last year, Orom-Tikao had planned 4,600 acres and by the end of 2019/2020 financial year, a total of 5,000 acres will have been planted and the target of 44,000 acres will be achieved by 2025.
“By the 2021, Orom-Tikao alone is expected to have planted cotton on 2,000 and 4,000 acres. And this being a labour intensive activity, more infrastructure will be put in place to boost manpower,” he said.
The prisons boss, however, said once they reach 4,000 acres, they will have to adopt mechanisation, adding that this is already on course.
“We are entering credit financing and it is at various stages of approval and definitely it will end up in cabinet, Byabashaija said.
He also expressed gratitude to the president for making sure that the finance ministry avails them with capital to start the activities.
Mario Obiga Kania, the state minister for internal affairs, said cotton growing in Uganda started in 1953 by the British colonialists.
By 1970, Uganda was producing 470,000 bales of cotton but this production kept on reducing to only 70,000 by around 2010.
With the fall in prices, it became uneconomical, which has also been compounded by the increase in population, making it hard for households to grow it on large scale.
“These days, households have an average of five children and with about four acres of land. How can you divide this land to grow cotton? It is unprofitable,”Obiga said.
Kania, however, challenged the community to take advantage of the agricultural skills and improve their farming.
“It is not about cotton, it is about research and how you can grow crops and gain more,” he said.
Margaret Orik Obonyo, the regional prisons commander (northern region), said there is need to improve infrastructure by putting up more wards for the prisoners.
Shem Lwanga, the officer in charge of Orom-Tikao main prison, said the facility has only 4300 inmates, but since it was established around 2014, a lot has been achieved in terms of what the community desired.
The Orom-TikaoMain Prison, sitting on 7,200 acres of land, was donated by the community to help them deal with the rampant stray elephants from Kidepo National Park, tse-tse flies and protection from the cattle rustlers.
So far, 500 acres are used for cotton growing and 100 for maize. The cotton produced is taken to Kitgum cotton ginnery.