4 January 2013

Uganda: Idle Coffee Factory Could Change Lives

Until early 2000 Paidha in the current Zombo district was a vibrant town. Its lifeblood was the Okoro Growers coffee processing plant at Ayuda, one-and-a-half kilometres outside the town.

However, this multimillion-shillings factory established in the 1970s is now a ghost of its glorious past. Despite a $111,000 (sh294m) Government bailout through a loan from the African Development Bank, the factory closed shop in 2006 due to high operational costs and allegations of mismanagement.

Since then the factory has remained idle with all its hitech equipment laments the area MP, Stanley Omwonya. The first attempt to rehabilitate the plant managed by the Okoro Coffee Growers Cooperative Union was in 1984 by Notay Engineering Industries and Jass Construction before the Government bailout of 1987.

The equipment

The factory has four polishers each with a capacity of 3.6 tonnes a day. It also has a hopper that directs the coffee for pre-cleaning and destining before it is delivered to the silos and finally to the hulling machines.

The hulling machines are from Mckinnon & Co. Limited of Aberdeen, Scotland, a renowned manufacturing company for such equipment.

The plant also has an automatic grading system as well as a weighing machine. Between 2005 and 2006, UNEX (U) Limited purchased and processed coffee at the plant.

Potential Impact

Omwonya, the Okoro MP, says the rehabilitation of the factory will not only create the much needed employment, but also drastically improve the lives of the communities in the region.

"This plant used to employ 243 people. It could even employ more if rehabilitated and expanded," Omwonya said. "At the moment, our coffee is fetching a low price because we do not have a processing plant.

Our farmers are getting a raw deal from middlemen who buy the coffee and transport it all the way to Mbale," he adds. The quality of the Okoro Arabica coffee, he said, is only second to that of Colombia that produces the best Arabica coffee in the world.

Omwonya said rehabilitation of the factory will not only improve coffee output in the West Nile region, but will also give a better farm- gate price to the estimated 84,000 farmers in the region.

The factory used to process coffee from several farmers including from Paidha, Jangokoro, Warr, Agremach, Nyapea, Atyak and the surrounding areas of DR Congo, which improved the household income and people's standards of living.

The MP disclosed that the region has an estimated 14 million coffee trees with a total annual estimated output of between 8,000 and 11,000 tonnes. Of the coffee trees, 10.5 million are among the estimated 54,000 farmers in Zombo district alone.

"To promote coffee production and increase household income, we are focusing on partnering with big investors to carry out large scale agriculture to benefit the poor," Omwonya said.

He observed that in order to revamp and promote the production of coffee and agriculture in West Nile region, the Government should endeavour to improve the transport infrastructure by extending the railway line from Pakwach to Zombo and also tarmac Nebbi-Paidha- Vurra-Oraba Road so as to open up Zombo to other markets and the neighbouring countries.

Ray of Hope

The completion of the 3MW Nyagak hydro-power plant brings with it hope that it will enable the factory to operate at full capacity other than relying on the expensive diesel-powered generators.

Two investors from Italy have expressed interest in partnering with the union to give the factory another lease of life. Last month Claudio Rossi and Dr. Abdullah Hajji visited the plant and promised to mobilise the estimated $1m about sh2.7b needed to resume production.

With this act of service, Rossi was named Jalar - Alur word meaning Saviour while Dr. Hajji was named Oriba (Unity). "As political leaders, we need to look and lobby for investors to bring development in our constituencies especially through industrialization in order to fight poverty at household levels,"

Omwonya noted in his speech. Rossi disclosed that Italians were one of the greatest consumers of arabica coffee in the world because of its nice aroma.

He assured the district and the union officials that they were on a fact-finding mission to come up with solutions on how to revamp coffee production in West Nile.

After negotiations, the investors, the union and the district leaders shall sign a memorandum of understanding, drawing a clear roadmap for the development of the coffee sector in the area.

The deputy LC5 chairperson, Jacqueline Alanyo commended area MP for initiating the venture that shall spur development not only in Zombo, but the entire West Nile region.

She stressed that the Government should come up with plans to put up the necessary infrastructure, especially good road network to ease transportation of agricultural produce.

Paidha Town Council mayor, Innocent Onega described Okoro as the Switzerland of Uganda with good climate and security.

He assured the investors of security, regardless of the insecurity taking place in the neighbouring country, Democratic Republic of Congo town of Goma, which is over 200 miles away.

Onega called for the installation of new coffee hauling machines so as to promote good quality coffee for internal and external markets.

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