Uganda: How Campaign to Build Church Changed Cassava Market in North

Raising funds for a church project can be a daunting task. It is even more tasking if it is a multi-project that involves construction of a church building, residences of catechists, schools, health units, among others.

That is what Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu envisioned when he embarked on creating a new catholic parish at Acholibur Town Council in Pader District under a project dubbed Acholibur Parish Project (APP) in 2017.

Instead of launching a fundraising campaign, Archbishop Odama created an11-member committee that set out to mobilise 10,000 farmers in the area to engage in cassava growing.

With the cassava stems already supplied by Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), the farmers were expected to grow the crop and sell the produce to raise money for the construction works.

"We Ugandans and Africans have big problems that have stagnated our progress, that is; either we sleep and do nothing or we wake up and do things without mathematics and the result of all that is poverty," President Museveni remarked in one of his visits to the region this year.

Today, the northern region has woken up to new ways of marketing cassava, owing to the APP while the new parish could soon turn into a major destination for the produce in the area. But how?

Project diversifies

By 2018, the APP had nearly 6,000 farmers when it started diversifying into other strategies, including, savings and value addition through industrial processing, among others.

The following year in October, President Museveni invited Archbishop Odama and the APP committee to State House Entebbe to discuss prospects of collaboration.

Mr Museveni wanted the Gulu Archdiocese to partner with government in agricultural development for Acholi Sub-region, and subsequently the rest of the northern region, specifically to market cassava.

This is because when OWC introduced cassava growing in the region more than five years ago, its production tripled but lacked market.

There were no associations or cooperative societies to create ready market. Farmers either sold the product cheaply, abandoned it in the fields or brewed it.

But since the church had the capacity to quickly mobilise its Christians to grow cassava, Mr Museveni knew that he would use it to commercialise and industrialise the crop.

Archbishop Odama said President Museveni then asked Finance minister Matia Kasaija to give a grant to the archdiocese to initialise the cassava commercialisation and industrialisation project in the region.

On March 7, the President was invited to the region to officiate over two key projects meant for the initiative.

Factory opened

These included the launch of Bukoona Agro Processors Distillery factory in Nwoya District that processes ethanol from cassava, and the celebration of the second anniversary of the APP project.

"I am now very happy that His Grace, Archbishop John Baptist Odama together with other church leaders have joined me in this campaign against sleeping," the President said then.

While in Pader, Daily Monitor established that the President announced in a special meeting with clerics and other stakeholders at Aringomone Irrigation Project that the Cabinet had approved a Shs33b budget for the commercialisation and industrialisation of cassava production.

Last week, Agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja told stakeholders at a planning meeting summoned by Archbishop Odama in Gulu Town that the funds had already been allocated.

"I was tasked to spearhead this project by the President, therefore, I want to announce today that Cabinet unanimously approved Shs33b to help northern Uganda in increasing cassava production," Mr Ssempijja said.

"The government wants this region to be a food hub for Uganda and East Africa at large because of the good soils and favourable weather conditions for these crops," he added.

The funds will be used to mobilise more farmers, supply inputs as well as establish facilities to ease the marketing of cassava in the region, among others.

Archbishop Odama later said the invitation was not strange or difficult since they are already partners in fields of education, health, justice and peace.

"This project intends to build a farming community which believes in cultivating cassava and working together without religious, political, clan, tribal and gender boundaries," Archbishop Odama said.

"With the help of our technical personnel in the government and the church, we should start planning and budgeting the Shs33b and draw a roadmap for its utilisation in this FY2020/21," Bishop Odama added.

He said when the church and the government contribute to the holistic development of the people, peace reigns.

Archbishop Odama urged Naads (National Agricultural Advisory Services) and OWC staff to quicken the process of paying farmers under APP for the cassava cuttings they supplied in 2019 and in this year. Last year, the archdiocese signed a memorandum of understanding with an investor, Bukoona Agro Processors Ltd that has since created an internal market for cassava farmers in Acholi sub-region.

The investor recently completed the establishment of a Shs22.5b cassava distillery plant at Lapem Village, Kochgoma Sub-county, Nwoya, where it is also assembling environmentally-friendly ethanol-powered stoves.

The plant is now processing ethanol and other industrial products from locally produced cassava in northern Uganda.

It consumes 7,500 tonnes of dry cassava every day and 20,000 tonnes at peak of production.

In partnership with Gulu Archdiocese, the company has mobilised more than 20,000 farmers under 33 cooperative societies in the region to grow cassava to supply to the factory.

Cassava growing

Cassava is the second main staple food in Uganda and has been identified to have potentials of improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers in Uganda.

A report by Sustainable Agriculture Kigoma Regional Projects state that Uganda currently has an annual net deficit of cassava and cassava-derived products of more than 70,000 metric tonnes.

The annual demand for cassava and cassava-derived products in Uganda stood at 2.85 million metric tonnes (fresh root equivalent) in 2014 and is expected to increase by 31 per cent by the end of 2020.

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