Pineapple farmers in Luweero District have renewed their demand for a processing plant to be established in the area.
President Museveni in 2009 pledged to construct a pineapple processing plant in the district to help farmers process their juice and boost value addition.
However, the pledge is yet to be fulfilled.
Currently, the market prices for pineapple fruits have fallen to Shs800 from Shs1,300 in two months.
Mr Jimmy Wamala, the chairperson of Luweero Pineapple Farmers and Traders Association (LPFTA), says their efforts to mobilise pineapple farmers have been frustrated by the ever falling prices and lack of a processing machine to preserve the produce.
“The pineapple farmers have run out of options and are now selling pineapples at Shs800 to the dealers. This is the lowest price in the last four years,” Mr Wamala says.
“We are now relying on a few traders from Kenya who can purchase the pineapples but still at a lower price. We appeal to government to fulfil a pledge made by President Museveni to have a processing machine for Luweero farmers,” he adds.
The farmers, through their association, say they have approached the Agriculture ministry on issues related to the promotion of the pineapple crop and search for better markets.
“We are also keen to ensure that we have the value chain system as one way of promoting the pineapple crop. Farmers in Luweero produce about 500 tonnes of pineapple per day,” Mr Wamala, who owns about 30 acres of the fruit in Kabanyi Village, Butuntumula Sub-county, adds.
Mr Samuel Kayongo, the LPFTA vice chairperson, says failure by the government to respond to some of their concerns could see some farmers shun pineapple growing.
“Many farmers hire land. The landlords have also raised the prices for hiring the land from Shs200,000 in 2017 to Shs1m per acre in 2019,” he says.
Mr Kayongo adds that they also face a local market challenge as they are restricted from vending the pineapples in Kampala City.
“We are only supposed to sell the pineapples in gazetted markets, which is not friendly for pineapple dealers,” he says.
Mr Issa Ndugwa, who owns about 35 acres of pineapples in Kabunyata Village, Kamira Sub-county, claims that pineapple farmers were left out when government entered a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a private company to establish a processing plant in the district.
“We only heard about the purchase of the land in Luweero Town Council but nothing has ever materialised since then. We are also troubled by the bad roads leading to our pineapple farms,” Mr Ndugwa adds.
The district chairperson, Mr Ronald Ndawula, acknowledges many challenges faced by the pineapple farmers. He adds that the pineapple processing plant project failed because the district leadership was not involved in the procurement process.
“It is unfortunate that the project was never channelled through the district but through private companies. This made it difficult for us to make a follow-up. We are still pursuing the pledge from government through the many reminders to all the relevant offices,” Mr Ndawula says.
In 2009, President Museveni, while touring the different farming projects under the National Agricultural Advisory Services(Naads) programme in Luweero District, pledged to have a pineapple processing plant established in the area. The President had promised that the plant would be delivered under Naads.
Daily Monitor has established that the Ministry of Finance released Shs115.2m to Nature Uganda Cooperative Society Limited (NUCSL) in 2009, a company that had signed the MoU with the government to set up the processing plant.
Available information at the district production office indicates that the officials at NUCSL used the money to purchase a five-acre piece of land in Luweero Town Council for the plant. The status of this land cannot be ascertained since it was not handed over to the district, an official in the district production office, who did not want to be quoted, said.
It is reported that when the NUCSL approached the Ministry of Finance for an additional Shs588m to kickstart the project in 2010, the money was never released.
“Ministry officials kept on postponing the payments. Government has never honoured the bigger part of the pledge,” Mr Arnest Keziron Kizito, who was dealing with NUCSL on behalf of the farmers’ association, said yesterday.
Luweero is one of Uganda’s biggest pineapple growing areas. The crop was introduced in the district two decades ago and an estimated 700 households are currently involved in pineapple production.