On December 16, 2012, President Museveni, while speaking at Kiige Church of Uganda during a funeral service of the late George Wilson Kadaga Midaali, the father of Ms Rebecca Kadaga, the Speaker of Parliament, made three promises to residents of Balawoli Sub-county in Kamuli District.
One of them was to turn the government-owned citrus farm in Kiige into a modern industrial fruit processing plant.
The President said the plant would help revive fruit growing in the area and set the district on the path of industrial growth so as to create jobs. This lined up with the theme of increasing household incomes.
Citrus fruit farming was first introduced in Uganda by the colonialists in 1900.
Budded citrus species was introduced in the country from South Africa, Jamaica and Australia and later the citrus wood species from the United States and Israel.
It was, however, not until the 1960s that commercial citrus fruit growing was introduced in the country.
The then government set up schemes, including Kiige in Kamuli District, Ongino in Kumi and Odino and Labori in Soroti.
Information from Uganda Investment Authority shows that the schemes were developed to use irrigation to ensure all-year round production for both domestic and export markets in Kenya, Rwanda and Burundi.
The establishment of the schemes popularised citrus fruit growing.
Kiige served as government’s seed multiplication site, but only about 6 per cent of those who were involved in citrus fruit production used the seedlings.
Adopt citrus farming
Majority of citrus fruit farmers found the application of the budding and grafting technologies cheaper and easier to apply, which compelled the four schemes to train farmers on how to use them.
As a result, the number of privately owned holdings increased in Kamuli and neighbouring Kaliro District as well as outside the scheme, which boosted production.
However, the political turmoil in the 1970s and the instability that characterised the first half of the decade of the 1980s, coupled with mismanagement caused a slump in production in Kiige scheme and the rest of Kamuli and Kaliro.
Commercial production of citrus fruits only started picking up again in the 1990s when the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) and its successor, Operation Wealth Creation started giving support to smallholder farmers.
However, the Ministry of Agriculture’s plan to help revive Kiige was unclear.
In June 2014, about 18 months after Mr Museveni had promised to revive the scheme, he was criticised by the then MP for Bugabula North, Mr Andrew Allen, over the project.
Mr Allen accused government of failing to fulfill its pledges and projects to Busoga region.
“Mr President, the Basoga clap hands and vote wholesale for NRM but they have concerns you may not know and the many other unfulfilled campaign pledges,” Mr Allen told Mr Museveni, who was presiding over the opening of Century Hotel in Kamuli owned by Ms Kadaga.
The MP said Kiige citrus project and Kasolwe Livestock Farm had collapsed and needed revamping.
Mr Allen also pointed at government’s failure to tarmac the Kamuli-Bukungu road.
However, Mr Museveni accused Mr Allen of being ignorant about the history of the country, adding that he should appreciate how the NRM had pulled the nation from an “abyss.”
“I wonder how old that young man is. He must be above 18 since he is an MP, but he lacks historical perspective of how far we have come,” Mr Museveni said.
Later on, Mr Allen said it was unfortunate that the President was telling peasants history yet what he (MP) was raising concerned the current situation.
“I was happy that he had something to think about because if nobody tells him the naked truth, he does nothing,” he said.
Almost nine years since Mr Museveni made the promise, nothing has been done.
Despite government’s effort to alleviate poverty in Kamuli and the rest of Busoga, majority of residents remain poor.
A report titled: ‘Where are the Poor? Mapping Patterns of Well-Being in Uganda: 1992 & 1999’ showed that by 1992, Kamuli had a very high incidence of poverty with up to 70 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. This means that they live on less than $1.90 PPP (purchasing power parity) per day.
The report, carried out by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics focused on consumption, which is considered an objective and quantifiable measurement of well-being.
It measured expenditure on food and non-food items such as clothing, durables, health and transport. It also considered the value of food that is both produced and consumed at home.
The report was carried out in collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute and with financial and technical assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, World Bank, Department for International Development, African Economic Research Consortium and World Resources Institute.
Despite the opening of Kamuli Sugar Ltd in Kamuli and Kenlon Industries in neighbouring Buyende, these have not had a significant impact on the district.
For instance, there was an increase in the number of people living in poverty at national level from 6.6 million in 2012/2013 to 10 million, (or 19.7 per cent) to 27 per cent in 2016/2017 as shown by the Uganda National Household Survey.
The eastern region had the highest poverty incidence at 35.7 per cent up in 2016/2017 from 24.5 per cent in 2012/13.
“The poverty levels in this region (eastern) are extremely high; people are just swimming in it not because they enjoy it, but because many depend on subsistence farming as their major source of livelihood. We need to have value addition for our products. That is the only way you are going to improve household incomes,”
Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament
“We are going to launch an economic transformation engine in Kamuli. Our people have the land. They only need to be sensitised and supported in their fight against poverty. Our focus will be on farmers who are ready to plant two acres of coffee and cocoa, and also put up at least 20 beehives for honey,”
Thomas Kategere, Kamuli District chairperson
The State Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mr Moses Kizige, who is also the Bugabula North MP where Kiige government farm is located, said plans have since changed from establishing a fruit processing plant in the area to turning it into an industrial park similar to the one in Kapeeka, Luweero Triangle.
“The National Agricultural Research Organisation had rehabilitated 50 acres of the old citrus farm and planted another 100 acres of fruit, but Cabinet declared Kiige an industrial park that will focus on agro-processing. It is ideal for that since it is very close to water. So it will not focus on fruit processing but on a range of things,” he said.
“The State minister for Investment has already visited the area and it has been agreed that any investors who express interest in the area of agro-processing be sent to Kiige. We are waiting,” he added.
It is great news to residents of Kamuli and the district leadership that government has decided to set aside land at Kiige for investors interested in agro-processing.
However, one wonders whether government is wasting a fertile piece of land that could have been used to establish a fruit farming and processing project with outgrowers, which would have showcased how competitive and attractive fruit farming can be. Although industries are good, they may not be able to increase productivity and incomes of the farming communities in Kamuli, which are the biggest challenges in the country.
The fruit farming project would not only revive the irrigation scheme, which has been lying dormant, but also complement the Poverty Eradication Action Plan and the Plan for the Modernisation of Agriculture.