“We are toiling every day hoping to get more money from the factory (...)"
Citrus farmers in Teso region have expressed concern over the delay in completion of the fruit factory, saying they are incurring losses as buyers are cheating them with low prices.
Teso, which comprises of eight districts, is the leading producer of citrus fruits in Uganda, with the bulk of the lot being improved orange varieties. The region is also one of the leading producers of mangoes.
"We are toiling every day hoping to get more money from the factory, but now the delay is making the buyers who come from Kenya and central Uganda to cheat us," John Okello, a citrus farmer in Serere district, told New Vision.
A sack of oranges costs between sh45,000 and sh75,000 in Teso.
"You find that these people [buyers] can come to you saying they want oranges at the price you agree, but again they delay to come even after they have paid you, and after realizing that you have used their money, say after two weeks have elapsed, they then come with big bags equivalent to two-in-one and pick all your oranges," said Rose Imalingat, a resident of Usuk sub-county in Katakwi district.
Imalingat asked government to ban certain bags that she says are not favoring the rural communities.
Phoebe Ibiara from Ngora sub-county in Ngora district said: "I wish this factory start operations so that we say goodbye to our exploiters."
Paul Egudu, who resides in Gweri sub-county in Soroti district also weighed in.
"In fact there is no benefit in agriculture now because the farmers are being cheated in all areas. When you take something to the market, the people who are supposed to buy are the ones determining the price for you as if they are the ones who cultivated it."
According to William Obitre, the site engineer who doubles as the project director of Ayude - a local contractor that has been sub-contracted to do the work - the delay in the completion of the factory was the result of changes in design because the soil on the lower part of the site was not firm enough to hold the structure.
He said about 85% of the construction works is complete and around 75% of the money allocated to the project has so far been utilized.
The Government of Korea in 2012, through their development arm Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), offered to provide a turnkey project for Soroti fruit factory.
The memorandum of understanding required the Government of Uganda to establish key infrastructure for construction to take off, including land, the extension of water and power to the project site, establishing a police post, paving of neighboring roads, fencing of project site and provision of land for waste disposal within a radius of 10km.
The sh24b contract was awarded to Hwanshin Uganda Limited for a period of 15 months, starting March 2015 to May 2016. The scope of works covers the construction of an office block, main factory, two internal roads, external storage and treatment plant.
The aim is to provide a ready market for the farmers' produce, add value to the fruits, hence increasing household incomes in the region.
The Soroti Fruit Processing Factory will process oranges and mangoes into concentrates and ready-to-drink juice.
The facility is expected to process at least 30,000 metric tonnes of fruits in a year, with the factory having a double line combined operational capacity of 8 MT/hr (6 MT/hr) for oranges and 2MT /hr for mangoes.
The ground breaking for the construction of the fruit factory took place on September 28, 2014 by President Yoweri Museveni.
Thereafter, according to the initial plan, installation and commissioning of machinery and equipment would be done from August 2016 to October 2016, and commercial operation of the factory would commence in November 2016.
Once the construction of the factory is fully complete, UDC will manage the factory in partnership with Teso Tropical Fruit Growers Cooperative Union, with UDC having 80% shareholding.