THERE is no better Christmas gift for the north this year than the decision by Mukwano Industries to set up an oil processing plant in Lira. The $20m (sh38bn) plant will not only boost sunflower growing, but will also stimulate the development of other industries dependent on sunflower by-products, thereby creating direct employment to hundreds of people in the region that is recovering from 20 years of rebel insurgency.
The return of peace in the north should be followed by meaningful development companies like Mukwano should be supported by both local and national leaders as true partners in this development effort. The north is primarily an agricultural region and that is why agriculture and agro-processing should be encouraged.
However, the companies taking their investments to the north should be sensitive to land issues and the feelings of a people traumatized by years of war. Tact and transparency is required, particularly in investments that would need huge tracts of land.
That is why Mukwanoâ€™s approach of directly buying or leasing land from individuals or working with the farmers should be commended.
Already 85,000 farmers in the districts of Lira, Dokolo, Apac and Oyam have signed contracts with Mukwano and are reaping the benefits. Under the arrangement, Mukwano offers incentives like hoes, fertilisers and pesticides to the farmers and guarantees to buy all their crop output at a price agreed in advance.
This price guarantee cushions the farmers against low prices dictated by market forces in case of a bumper harvest or oversupply.
At the moment, Mukwano buys a combined harvest of 34,000 tonnes of sunflower, directly bringing in sh12b to the farmers in the north.
The establishment of an oil processing plant will raise the demand to 300,000 tonnes a year. As long as people are constructively engaged, manipulating them into rebellion becomes an uphill task. That is why more Mukwanos should be attracted to invest in the north.