Several commercial farmers in the districts of Nwoya and Amuru have incurred heavy losses in the last two years resulting from theft of crops by locals, Daily Monitor has learnt.
The fertile soils and favourable climate in the two districts attracted several commercial investors in the past years, who have invested billions of shillings in modern agriculture.
Despite their massive investments, the environment seems harsh as locals have turned against their investments.
Some of the affected commercial farms are Amatheon Agri, a German-owned commercial farm in Nwoya District, Omer Farming Ltd in Amuru District and Dr Oala Lolim Farm in Nwoya District.
Mr Okot Bongomin, the public relations officer of Omer Farming Ltd, says in the last two years, they have lost about 300 tonnes of maize crop estimated to cost Shs240 million, to thieves.
The farm in Amuru Sub-county occupies 6,000 acres of land and deals in maize, chia and rice cultivation.
Mr Bongomin says 200 tonnes of maize crops were stolen in 2016 while another 100 tonnes were stolen in 2017.
He alleges that some of the locals neighbouring the farm have since abandoned cultivating maize ever since the farm started operating, adding that they only wait to steal.
“This theft has surpassed our imagination, there are people who have been stealing to sell while others steal for consumption,” he says.
High cost of security
He adds that due to the theft, they are incurring high costs in hiring security personnel to guard the 6,000-acre farm.
“We are paying Shs13 million monthly for 20 guards we hire from Security Group Africa [SGA] to man the farm. This is very expensive given the fact that we haven’t been in the business for long,” he says.
According to Mr Bongomin, they have been able to arrest 42 thieves in the last two years, including one security guard whom they hired, who was caught with 540 kilograms of stolen maize.
Due to the rampant theft, susceptibility to pests and diseases and little profits arising from farming maize, the farm management has abandoned it for other crop varieties.
Mr Bongomin says they have decided to deal only in rice and chia crops which are profitable and are resistant to pests and diseases.
But the district chairperson, Mr Michael Lakony, says the matter has never been reported to his office, adding that had he known, he would have intervened to sensitise the locals.
“These problems could have come as a result of land conflicts, there are people who claim part of their land is being illegally used by the investor. We shall make all necessary efforts to try to bring the investors and the community members to understand each other,” he adds.
In Nwoya District, Dr Oala Lolim’s farm covering 1,400 hectares in Purongo sub-county has not been spared too by thugs. The farm mainly deals in maize.
Dr Samuel Oola, the farm owner, says he has lost millions of shillings as a result of theft of maize from his farm by locals.
Dr Oola says theft of his crop is scaring him from further continuing with the investment.
Mr Prosper Maposa, the General Manager of Amatheon Agri in Nwoya District, also shares the similar plight.
He says on average they have been losing about 100 tonnes of maize crops to thieves neighbouring the farm.
Mr Maposa notes that due to the increasing theft, they had to heighten security around the farm, adding that they spend Shs20 million monthly on paying 30 security guards they hire from a security firm.
“Business has not been easy ever since we started experiencing this kind of theft. People within the area are now relaxed, they do not want to farm anymore, they only wait to steal from us the commercial farmers,” he adds.
He also says some members of the community neighbouring the farm, on realising that they had heightened security, resorted to setting fires that burnt their crops last planting season.
Mr Maposa says due to the theft and low prices maize is fetching on the market, they will reduce the plantation from 1,000 hectares to only 300 hectares of land as they eye rice and chia crops farming.
“Maize crops is currently facing low prices, with the increasing theft, it becomes commercially unviable to continue growing them. We are shifting our focus to rice and chias,” Mr Maposa says.
Why are theft cases rising?
The Nwoya District agricultural officer, Mr Alfred Kilama, alleges that the thefts are rising due to what he describes as “bad” relationships some of the investors have with community members.
Without mentioning names, Mr Kilama says some of the local communities have been caught up in conflicts with some of the investors without any peaceful resolution, adding that the former chose to revenge through stealing and destroying their crops.
“There is need for social capital, the community and the investors need to build relationships that give a leeway for peaceful working environment. The investors must also assess why these things are happening, if they can address the root cause,” Mr Kilama says.
He adds that they are tirelessly working towards sensitising the locals on how to correlate with investors within their community.
Nwoya District alone hosts some 35 large scale commercial farmers.
The Nwoya District chairperson, Mr Patrick Okello Oryema, says the rampant theft signals a bad working environment for investors, adding if unchecked it could deter away many others interested in investing in the district.
“We have got these reports several times and acted upon a few through sensitisation. Our people still don’t understand how to mingle with these investors,” Mr Oryema says.
The Aswa River Region police commander, Mr Osteen Wanyama, says they have never received any recent case of bulk theft from investors in Nwoya and Amuru districts.
“We always coordinate with the police in the two districts, how comes this cases never came up to us? How comes crops are stolen to that magnitude and the investors never reported it?” Mr Wanyama asks.
He adds that the commercial farmers should come forward with evidences to their claims so that justice is accorded.