To every household in Teso sub-region, fruits are a must-have. From every compound, to the roadside and gardens, mango and orange trees are everywhere. Infact, in Soroti, Kumi, Katakwi, Amuria, Kabiramaido and Bukedea districts, some fruit trees just grow naturally unaided in forests and on roadsides, and yet go on to produce quality fruits.
The sight of the ripened oranges and mangoes in the area would make no other fitting comparison other than the biblical Garden of Eden. According to the Agriculture ministry, the sub-region is known to have more than five million orange trees, and an estimated 1.5 million trees of mangoes.
However, the millions of trees mean the fruits will all ripen at ago, leaving the residents in a dilemma; they cannot consume all and neither can they find adequate market for all of them. Even the trucks coming from urban areas such as Kampala, Mbale and Jinja will not offer value for money for the fruits.
As a result, millions of fruits are left to rot on tree or are just collected in sacks and dumped in gardens away from homes to avoid the stench when they get rotten or probably to attract manures.
Previous efforts by farmers in the area to seek a solution had not yielded any fruit. They had suggested to the government to build a fruit processing factory in the area to minimise wastage and add value to the fruits.
This did not come to pass with the government bureaucracy partly blamed for slow progress of the factory. The Finance ministry had reportedly failed to source an investment partner to implement the enterprise.
Last year, Teso Fruit Growers Association chairperson Jerome Opian told this newspaper that the government’s proposed fruit processing plant in Teso could only be expected in 2014,t two years to the next general campaigns. “We are told serious work on the project will start in the third quarter of 2013. There is still a long way for this promise to become a reality,” said Mr Opian.
However, farmers now have a reason to smile with the construction of an indigenous fruit processing factory that is set to start production in December next year. Teso Foods Ltd will be a partnership between the residents and a Chinese firm, Beijing Industrial Designing and Research Institute. The entire construction of the factory is expected to cost $16 million (about Shs40 billion), according to the business plan that this newspaper has seen. It is expected to sit on 16 hectares of land in Soroti Town.
To many unemployed youths from the sub-region, this is one of those moments to dust their suits and carry their documents to the company managers, hoping to tap from the enterprise. According to the business plan, the factory will have a production capacity of up to 10 tonnes per hour and will offer up to 600 direct jobs and an estimated 20,000 indirect jobs. “This factory, if supported by production and effective irrigation, will transform the region and improve on house hold incomes, thus providing disposable income to each house hold,” the business plan reads in part. Teso Foods Ltd is expected to buy the fruits from farmers, turn them into juice and package it for export, with the Asian market being targeted.
The factory also will mobilise farmers into producer organisations to consolidate its supply chain.
Once the factory has started, production of fruits is expected to increase from an estimated 100,000 tonnes per year to 150,000 tonnes in order to meet the new demand.
Mr Aruo Alfred Martin, the Soroti Municipality mayor, is excited about the factory saying as local government, they encourage local investment in the area to curb the high unemployment. “Our local economic base is very weak and any effort towards seeing partnership is welcome in the region. As local government, our efforts are geared towards creating avenues that will encourage local investment,” says Mr Aruo. He adds: “The partnership will strengthen the local economy since the households will be able to sell their mangoes and boast their incomes. The factory will also be in business as it adds value to the fruits and sells juice.”
Capt Mike Mukula, who is the majority shareholder in the project with about 70 per cent, is excited about the venture, saying it will add value to the wasted fruits and also create job opportunities to hundreds of unemployed youths in the area. “As a shareholder, I am excited about providing leadership in form of encouraging production and providing the value addition chain which the President has been advocating for,” Capt Mukula, who is also the Soroti Municipality MP, says.
“The incomes from fruit farming and sale will provide an instant market to the population to enable the families send their children to school and tertiary institutions of higher learning,” he adds.
As residents wait for the first drop of juice to be squeezed out of the fruits, it is their only hope that another bureaucracy will not delay the project.