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November 27, 2011

Ugandan farmers stuck with oranges; promised processing factory still to materialize

by Richard Otim

Mr Christopher Okiria, a resident of Maditok Village in Uganda's Ngora Sub-county, retired from teaching three years ago to grow oranges hoping to earn better income from it, but he is yet to reap the benefits. He had planted at least 200 trees in his garden and had expected to reap at least Shs5 million from the oranges this year.

Like Okiria, the majority of people in retirement across Teso region took on citrus projects on a large scale to grow oranges when government promised to set up a fruit factory to absorb the excess production.

"We are now stranded with the oranges. Our energy has been wasted," the retired teacher says.

The chairperson of Soroti Fruit Farmers Association, Mr Gaudesio Opio, said farmers had extensively embarked on growing fruits for the last five years as an alternative means of income, but the practice has not paid off due to poor marketing skills.

" Marketing oranges in the region is lacking, that is why farmers are losing morale in fruit growing," Mr Opio said. He said oranges at the grassroots and local producers have been mostly affected by price fluctuations.

Orange farmers had a bumper harvest this year but failed to secure a profitable market.

"Middlemen have taken advantage of this weakness and are exploiting growers," Mr Opio said, adding that the association has joined other groups in the region to push for better conditions.

Mr James Odongo, a farmer in Ngora, said traders from Kenya and South Sudan buy a bag at Shs10, 000, down from last season's Shs50, 000 per bag.

Teso leaders in Ngora recently asked President Museveni to fulfill the pledge he made a decade ago that a fruit processing plant would be established in Teso.

The government pledged Shs5 billion for the plant under the Prosperity-for-all programme. The government's delay in constructing the factory has irked many farmers who are now threatening massive protests.

"Our oranges are rotting. The government should rescue us. Why wait until it is time of campaigns then talk of the factory?" Ms Susan Ikelot, a farmer in Serere district, asked.

During a meeting last year by Uganda Development Corporation in Soroti to discuss the proposed fruit factory, it was agreed that the plant would be operational by 2010. The losses have been so immense that most farmers are considering abandoning the plants.

The Resident District Commissioner of Soroti, Mr Ben Etonu, said the fruit plant in the offing has a big capacity and the current orange production may not be able to sustain the plant. Mr Etonu urged farmers to grow more oranges, adding that 230 acres of land have been secured for the factory.

The Monitor

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