Finally, all indications suggests it is only a matter of time before the machines at the Soroti Fruit Factory begin running.
The factory in the Teso sub-region has been an ongoing project since 2015 and many had started to raise alarm over its failure to start according to the schedule.
After about three years of delay, government says that it is now committed to ensuring that the factory begins operation before close of the year.
“After the trial test, commissioning of the factory will be done in August by President Museveni,” Ms Amelia Kyambadde, Trade, Industry and Cooperative minister, told a group of stakeholders including fruit farmers, district leaders and MPs from the Teso sub-region during the tour of the factory last week.
Ms Kyambadde also said that as a ministry they have been restless over the issues regarding the fruit processing plant, pledging that she will not rest until the factory begins commercial production, which she said will happen in slightly over three months.
According to Uganda Development Corporation, government’s investment arm, the factory is now fully installed, pending technical testing, which will then lead to processing of fruits.
The construction of the factory began in April 2015 and was scheduled to have been completed in 2016.
And now government says testing the “facility and all that will take about three months from now [May]”.
“We should be up and running - start commercial production,” Yudaya Kadondi, the project coordinator, said after the tour of the plant.
Kadondi, who is also the UDC senior economist, said there is no reason as to why we should not start commercial production, adding: “After three months [of testing], there is no more excuse as to why commercial production shouldn’t start.”
Ronald Kigongo Akakwanswa, the Soroti Fruit Factory manager production and technical services, said all arrangements have been made including organising farmers to supply the fruits.
The fruit processing plant is an initiative of the government, with assistance of the Korea International Cooperation Agency, working in partnership with the Teso Tropical Fruit Growers Cooperative Union.
The Shs48billion factory was constructed in Soroti for strategic reasons, key among them, the abundant availability of fruits in the district and surrounding areas.
According to Kadondi, the plant will start with a single shift of about 8 hours, processing nearly 650,000 tonnes of oranges and 25,000 tonnes of mangoes annually.
It will then move to a double shift and eventually to a 24 hour operation system in order to absorb supplies as well as meet market demand.
According to Kadondi, the market is already available as for the products will be sold to both local consumers and across the East Africa.
Already, she says, many supermarkets have shown interest and are seeking long term contracts to vend produced products.
Other clients such as beverage factories, have also expressed interests to mainly buy concentrates to support their juice production lines.
Recently, Coca-Cola indicated that the delay to launch the fruit factory had forced them to import concentrates from Kenya to feed their juice production line.
Apart from benefiting local juice producing companies, the fruit factory will be a source of revenue for farmers, many of whom are now involved in commercial fruit farming.
According to details available, a 100 kilogramme sack of fruits will cost Shs50,000 compared to the Shs30,000.
Subsequently, the factory has brought so much anticipation with a number of stakeholders expecting good fortunes.
“Our expectations are terribly high,” Joram Opian, the Teso Tropical Fruit Union chairman, says, adding: “We have been anticipating this for a very long time. Our livelihood is almost dependent on this in many ways. So the sooner the factory starts the better.”
According to Opian, the factory’s plan to expand must happen soon because currently what is already in the gardens is much more than what the factory will need for its first phase.
This expansion, he says, needs to be dealt with because it may impact on the continuity of farmers capacity to continuously provide supplies.
“Farmers must be able to sell their fruits and at a competitive price,” Opian says.
The factory has put a price ceiling for fruits that meet standards but farmers, according Opian expect prices to improve in future. However, amid all this there is a silent battle regarding what name the factory should be given.
Where as some people say it should be called Soroti Fruit Factory, other want it to be named Teso Fruit Factory to fit in the wider concept of the sub-region.
For instance, the Soroti District leadership, including MPs, among others, want the plant to be named Soroti Fruit Factory, while others, according to research conducted by UDC want it to be named Teso Fruit Factory. “When Soroti district was giving the land for this factory, the agreement was that the plant will be named Soroti Fruit Factory. It was Soroti that gave the land and not the sub-region,” John Enomu, the Soroti District secretary for production, argues, adding that: “It is only fitting that it [factory] is named after the district. And this does not mean that people from the sub-region will not work here or supply raw materials for the factory.”
Besides this there are other serious challenges such as pest and diseases, the cost of fertilisers and pesticides, lack of water for irrigation and improper storage facilities, which not only will affect the supplies to the factory but remain a problem to the region.
The region mainly relies on yet it faces long periods of drought, which will be a production when it comes to 360° fruit supply.
DEALING WITH CHALLENGES
According to Amelia Kyambadde, the challenges, some of which are pressing, present opportunities and government is already dealing with some in different ways.
About 240 motorised spray pumps, she says, will be made available to the farmers to help in spraying of pests and diseases. Kyambadde also says that government will install boreholes and build a waste management facility, which also remains a serious problem.
Government also plans to install a dedicated power line to the factory and recruitment of the factory chief executive officer, will be a professional process devoid of politics.
She also believes that government will look into the issue of the name and will harmonize the controversy if there is any. Currently, the factory is registered as Soroti Fruits Limited.
More than 80 per cent of the Soroti Fruits Limited is owned by the government through Uganda Development Corporation, government’s investment arm. The 20 per cent is owned by farmers, who are organised under a cooperative union. There are more than eight million orange trees in the Teso sub-region with each tree producing between five to six bag. Similarly, there are about 1.5 million mango trees, with each producing about six bag of 100 kilogramme bags.