Legislators on the parliamentary committee on agriculture have advised government to swiftly implement the oil palm project on Buvuma Islands, warning that any further delays would give unscrupulous individuals a chance to grab land earmarked for the project.
This follows reports that some residents in the area, who government compensated for their land to pave way for the project, had started reclaiming it, under the pretext that that their property was undervalued.
The Buvuma Palm Oil project, which was unveiled in 2008, failed to take off due endless land disputes and environmental concerns.
While touring the land secured for the project last week, MPs lead by the vice chairperson parliamentary committee on agriculture, Mr Robert Migadde, said the project should take-off as government settles the few remaining land disputes with Project Affected Persons (PAPs).
“The project should start immediately, the already purchased land, is enough for the project to kick off. Government has invested huge sums of money in the project,” he said during an interview last Friday.
A total of 51 people are yet to receive their compensation for the land which government took over for the project.
The project, a component of the Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP) is under the Ministry of Agriculture.
It is implemented by Oil Palm Uganda Ltd (OPUL), a subsidiary of Bidco Uganda, which manages oil palm plantations on Bugala Islands in Kalangala District.
The MPs also directed the project manager to hasten the process of compensating the Project Affected Persons(PAPs), who refused to vacate their plots, claiming their property was undervalued.
However, they urged the project implementers to ensure that there is no encroachment on the existing forests and wetlands t.
Buvuma Main Island has about 200 square miles (517km) of land and 26 gazetted forest reserves.
“We want the project but we must ensure that it doesn’t endanger our environment,” Mr Migadde added.
Ms Connie Masaba, the VODP project coordinator, said the government chief valuer has already approved the valuation of 51 PAPs and they will be paid soon.
Ms Masaba told the MPs that government has so far spent Shs67 billion on compensation of 5,442 PAPs and a total of 7,591 hectares have been secured.
She said out of 10,000 hectares needed, 6,500 will be used by Oil Palm Uganda Ltd while the remaining 3,500 hectares will be for out growers.
“Our target is 10,000 hectares, but we have so far purchased 7,591 hectares for nucleus estate. However, we won’t use all of it, some land is in the buffer zone, while the other land is near the lake and wetlands,” she said.
Mr Ronald Wanda, the Buvuma District vice chairperson, said the delay to start the project had stimulated poverty in the Islands.
“Many[residents] surrendered their land hoping that they will work in the company, others bought vehicles thinking they will be supplying materials to the project but now they are stuck, ”he said.
A section of conservationists have since 2016 been opposed to the planned oil project in Buvuma like they did to one in Kalangala Islands, saying it is not environment friendly.
Recently, environmentalists blamed the disappearing forest cover on the increasing change in land use where large acreage of forest land in Buvuma Islands has been converted into farmland.
Last year, Daily Monitor broke a story where government had earmarked 3,500 hectares of private forests in Buvuma for oil palm growing, a move that was protested by conservationists.
The Buvuma Resident District Commissioner, Ms Lillian Nakaweesi, said then that the decision to encroach on private forest land was due to the scarcity of farmland in the area.