BY ISMAIL MUSA LADU
Fruits worth billions if not trillion of shillings that could have been processed for longer shelf life as well as exports are rotting away in the gardens as commercial fruit farmers across the country look on helplessly.
A case in point is greater Masaka sub-region region, where farmers report that between 20 to 40 per cent of the pineapples they produce in large commercial scale get wasted in the garden.
It further emerged during the field visit to pineapple farmers in the Greater Masaka sub region, that the situation was further exacerbated by the Covid-19 containment measures such as transport restrictions, quarantine (including on boarder districts) and ban of weekly markets.
To hedge against such losses, commercial farmers growing pineapples, a fruit packed with nutrients, antioxidants and other helpful compounds, such as enzymes that can fight inflammation and diseases, are demanding for a pineapple processing factory in the greater Masaka sub-region.
“We have nowhere to sell these fruits. We entirely depend on local market who consume them in raw form,” Mr Livingstone Mwansanje, a commercial pineapple farmer in Kalangala District said in an interview last week.
“I have 22 acres of land but during the peak of the lockdown I made massive losses due to lack of market. It was so painful seeing so much rotting away and you cannot do anything about it. The prices fell from Shs1500 and Shs2000 to Shs700 and Shs500, sometimes even Shs300 per pineapple,” he added.
It is for this reason that Mr Kasiita Francis, arguably the biggest pineapple farmer in the country, with nearly 500 acres alongside other pineapple farmers in the greater Masaka, with the support of the local leadership, are demanding that a processing facility be constructed in the sub-region.
With the factory in place, the farmers believe production will further multiply and price stability will certainly be guaranteed.
Ms Khadijah Blessing Nakakande, the Spokesperson of the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS), in an interview in said government through the secretariat has commenced the process of establishing a fruit processing facility in the Greater Masaka Region, an initiative to promote agro-industrialization.
“In the current Financial Year 2020/2021 government released resources through NAADS to conduct a feasibility study and develop designs for the establishment of the factory in the greater Masaka Sub-region.
“Currently, NAADS is conducting a feasibility study in the region to establish the viability of the value addition facility. The study is expected to be completed by the end of September 2020 and once it’s accomplished, it will establish the fruit production capacity of the region, the technical and economic feasibility as well as the suitable location of the factory,” Ms Nakakande said.
A statement issued by NAADS noted that greater Masaka sub region has greatly benefitted from the support of NAADS with over 7 million pineapple suckers distributed to farmers since 2014 in the districts of Masaka, Kalangala, Lwengo, Kyotera, Kalungu and Rakai.
This effort she said has resulted into an increase in the acreage and production of fruits in the greater Masaka sub-region region, explaining the demand for a fruit processing facility.
Already through NAADS, government is undertaking the value addition initiative in several other parts of the country.
According to Ms Nakakande, already Shs8.7billion has been allocated for the ongoing construction of Yumbe Mango Processing factory in the West Nile.
At the same time, plans to construct a Shs19 billion processing factory to add value to the abundant fruits in Nwoya District in northern Uganda is in its advance stages.
Since 2014, NAADS says they have supported the production of fruits mainly mangoes, pineapples, citrus and passion fruits in different regions across the country through the distribution of planting materials and value addition facilities, with the intention of commercializing the fruits sector as well as support increased production through the distribution of quality clean seedlings, with high yields that are also tolerant to pests and diseases.