Kampala — Cases of fruits rotting away will be minimal in Teso sub-region following the commissioning of Soroti Fruit Factory.
The new fruit factory whose annual capacity stands at 25,000 metric tonnes of mangoes and oranges has squeezed itself into Uganda's fruit juice market.
Uganda Development Corporation also rolled out its 10-year investment plan that will focus on agro-manufacturing and areas where private sector would not ordinarily invest.
The Shs48 billion factory commissioned by President Museveni is a win-win for both farmers and locals in Teso sub-region.
It will, among other things, provide market for fruit producers countrywide while raising fruit farmers' income.
According to Trade Minister Amelia Kyambadde, in a good season, a fruit farmer could earn slightly more than Shs9.5 million from an acre of land, a competitive return compared to other crops within the same acreage.
In her remarks, Ms Kyambadde said the factory will buy a kilogramme of citrus fruit at Shs600 which is a remarkable difference compared to the Shs200 per kilogramme that most traders across the borders would purchase at.
In an interview with the Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union (TEFCU) vice chairperson, Eng. Cyprian Omurangi, in the beginning the farmers will sell to the factory at Shs500. But fruit processors will eventually be required to purchase a kilo at Shs1,000.
In her speech, the chairperson Of Soroti Fruits Limited, Ms Josephine Okot, said the fruit factory will improve house hold income.
Although President Museveni appreciated the gesture of the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) for the financial and technical support worth $ 7.4 million (about Shs28 billion), he pledged for many more similar processing facilities across the country.
Soroti Fruits Factory (SOFTE) is now a fully-fledged turnkey project processing both juice and concentrate with a processing capacity of 25,000 metric tonnes of mango and orange fruits per annum.
The raw material for the factory according to Ms Kyambadde and Ms Okot will largely come from the Teso sub-region and other surrounding regions.
"This in turn will transform the livelihood of fruit farmers in the region as they are guaranteed a market and through Teso Tropical Cooperative Union (TEFCU) they can negotiate better terms of trade than selling for export through border towns,"Ms Okot said.
At full capacity, the factory is expected to directly employ about 250 people and indirectly create employment opportunities for about two million people along the value and supply chain.
For the factory to compete favourably, a waiver from compliance with Public Procurement & Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) processes will be crucial. This will allow the factory to match the private sector dominance in the market.
A central waste treatment plant in Uganda Investment Authority's Industrial and Business Park where the factory is established was also recommended as a top priority. This is in addition to the provision of a dedicated power line for the park, something the President said will be done.
There was a cry for additional capitalisation to enable the factory deliver by-products such as primary bio-fertilisers and perfume extracts as well as acquisition and additional capitalisation to revitalise the defunct Odina Citrus Scheme in Kamuda.
But financial products from key financial institutions do not cater for climate investment making it difficult for any farmer to borrow for irrigation infrastructure.
For that, the leadership of the Soroti Fruit Factory wants a policy intervention to enable farmers secure long-term loans of between 15 and 20 years for irrigation infrastructure.
Without such intervention, during severe drought, the factory may have no oranges to procure from farmers in Teso region, creating a window for imported juice.
Mr Museveni said the above problem would be solved by the government, before stressing that people of Teso sub-region should concentrate on fruit farming, honey harvesting and fish farming because that is where the return on investment is.
The fruit processing plant is an initiative of the government through Uganda Development Corporation, with the assistance from KOICA), working in partnership with the Teso Tropical Fruit Growers Cooperative Union.