By Javier Silas Omagor, Step FM/NECJOGHA
Soroti, Uganda – Despite commencement of production by Soroti Fruit factory last year, fruit farmers in Teso Sub-region still claim that they are suffering with surplus produce.
In interviews with several farmers said that they have on several occasions been turned away by the factory telling them they have more than enough fruits.
“I was told to come back with my fruits three times by the management who reasoned that they had bought enough fruits the previous day.” Felix Tukei the chairperson Apungurei Fruit Farmers’ SACCO in Bukedea district says.
Tukei explained that his three tonnes of oranges ended up rotting while he was only able to sell little to produce dealers from neighboring Kenya.
Tukei is worried that farmers in Teso may not be able to improve their household incomes and transform their livelihoods if the status quo remains at the only fruit factory in the sub region.
“In 2019 we got plenty of harvest but due to lack of ready market, we ended up being cheated by the middlemen from Kampala, South Sudan and Kenya.” Lilian Ikilai, a pineapple farmer in Kalaki, Pallisa district says.
Ikilia narrates that she has about 700 trees of ripened citrus fruits in her farm but the factory in Soroti cannot afford to buy it, leaving her at the mercy of middlemen from Kenya who are offering Shs50,000 per bag yet their bags almost triple our ordinary bags in size.
While commissioning this factory in April last year, President Yoweri Museveni urged ordered that smallholder fruit farmers in Teso sub region be given priority to supply the factory with produce directly so that they realize tangible income.
However, last month, (December 2019) due to an overwhelming production of fruits within Teso and its neighbourhood, Soroti Fruit Factory management decided to restrict its purchase of oranges to farmer groups and associations.
So far, the factory has registered 63 groups from 35 districts in Eastern Uganda who supply fruits on appointment.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of losing her Job, a top staff member at Soroti Fruit Factory attributed the challenge to the factory’s low production capacity, which has also resulted in low prices for farmers’ produce.
The factory has a processing capacity of 6,000 kg of oranges and 4,000 kg of mangoes per hour. Teso so far is said to be having about 8,000,000 trees of oranges.
The recently commissioned multi – billion fruit factory processes oranges of Hamelin, Washington, and Valencia types, plus improved mangoes.
The project is implemented through a joint venture partnership between Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) and Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union through a grant from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
Now, under their umbrella of Teso Fruit farmers, they are urging government to consider increasing the production capacity of Soroti Fruit Factory so as to buy all their produce.
“We were convinced to invest in citrus farming by government claiming that the factory will be the ultimate innovation to the market crisis and but it all looks messy now. We are in incurring losses.” Alex Opit of Serere district said.
Due to the increasing inconsistency in weather patterns, some of these farmers have had to heavily invest in irrigation schemes so as to be able to harvest quality yields in large quantities.
Besides fruit growing, fish farming, pastoralism and poultry keeping are the only economically viable ventures for the people of Teso – Sub region.
The Arapai based factory was established to mainly take advantage of the mangoes and orange fruits in Teso sub region as a government –directed intervention aimed at supporting value addition in fruit processing in the Teso region.
The plant has the capacity to crash six tonnes of concentrates from oranges per hour and two metric tonnes of mangoes per hour.
Michael Werikhe, state minister for trade, told our reporter that government is aware of the current situation at Soroti Fruit Factory.