Soroti — After four years of waiting and watching their produce rot helplessly, farmers in Teso Sub-region have reason to smile.
This comes after government is set to commission the multimillion Soroti Fruit Factory.
The construction of the project in Arapai Sub-county, Soroti District, kicked off in April 2015 and it was scheduled to have been completed in 2016 to kick-start commercial production of processed mangoes and orange juice.
The Shs48b company was constructed targeting the abundant availability of fruits in the district and in Teso Sub-region to provide a ready market for farmers.
Teso sub-region comprises eight districts and is the leading producer of citrus fruits in the country. These districts are Soroti, Kumi, Ngora, Bukedea, Serere, Kaberamaido, Katakwi and Amuria
Plans to have the project in place were hatched in 2012 and the excited farmers rushed to grow fruits for commercial production.
Farmers would supply fruits to be processed for value addition and better income.
The factory was to be commissioned tomorrow according to communication from State House although it has been postponed to a date yet to be communicated.
"Colleagues, the commissioning of the fruit factory in Soroti has been postponed. We shall inform you about the new date," said Ms Linda Nabusayi, President Museveni's press secretary, in a statement.
Mr Emmanuel Mutahunya, the executive director Uganda Development Corporation, said the plant has capacity of crashing six metric tonnes of oranges per hour, and twometric tonnes of mangoes per hour.
Mr Mutahunya said the current findings by UDC are that the region has more than 8 million trees of oranges, which when well-maintained will enable the plant operate throughout the year.
He said the factory could not have opened without tests being conducted.
The factory has capacity to crash six tonnes of concentrates from oranges per hour, with an annual production output of 650,000 tonnes of oranges and 25,000 tonnes of mangoes.
However, amid good news about its commissioning, there is little euphoria among farmers following a sheer scale of destruction suffered in 2018 as the ping-pong behind the fruit factory reduced farmers to loss bearers, with little or no market prices offered for their oranges.
Mr Julius Adoa Aogon, the chairperson Kobuin Fitrus Fruit growers in Ngora District welcomed the launch of the project.
Mr Aogon said its opening comes at a time when farmers have suffered irreplaceable losses resulting from shortage of market.
"We cried as we watched our citrus rot away, with no players to buy the fruit. It is sad that the plant is being opened now when all oranges have gone to the waste. I am pondering which fruits they will be using unless they stocked. Short of that, it would be a stage managed event," he said.
Mr Aogon said Kobuin Sub-county farmers lost about Shs1b as Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) kept pushing forward the opening of the plant with no clear reasons given to farmers.
"I lost more than Shs80m last year. I failed to get ready market for my produce yet I injected a lot of money while maintaining the farm," he said.
Mr Aogon faulted the handlers of Soroti Fruit Factory saying if they were considerate, they would have bought the fruits and kept them in cold chains.
"January always has lesser fruits. I don't know what the fruit plant will use to operate, unless they secretly bought oranges and turned them to concentrates but what I know, most fruits perished.
"Besides this, we need a thorough look into the citrus industry in Teso, the chemicals should be subsidised for farmers to afford, chemicals have become very expensive, but at the end of the harvest, the product is bought cheaply," he added.
Mr Jorem Opian Obicho, the chairperson Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union, with 20 per cent shares in the fruit factory pointed to faulty machines.
"What I know is that plant can't open when the machines are not working, and that is the reality at hand," he said, adding that the plant should have been launched in 2016 for commercial production.
Mr Opian said as board of Soroti Fruit Factory, some of them will boycott the opening ceremony.
Dr Richard Molo, the agriculture specialist at National Agricultural Research Organisation, urged farmers to undertake the cultivation of Valencia and Harmlin varieties with high yields and concentrated juice compared to Washington navel.
The plants have also suffered a host of diseases and pests and attempts to find a lasting remedy have been futile because of limited knowledge on citrus.
Mr David Abala, the Ngora County MP, who has been pushing for the factory to open, said the launch has been long overdue.
Mr Abalo said more than 300 farmers from Ngora District in November 2018, petitioned the Speaker of Parliament over the delayed opening of the plant.
"Let me hope that the launch is going to bring joy to the farmers. Hundreds of them lost a fortune last year," he said.