Atiak sugar investors demand govt action on rampant fires

The Atiak sugarcane plantation that was burnt to ashes in Amuru District. The investors say the factory has been shut down for almost six months due to lack of raw materials as a result of rampant fires. COURTESY PHOTO.

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They want government to limit or outrightly prohibit loitering by people or the burning of charcoal in areas next to the plantation.

The lead investor of Atiak Sugar Factory has written to the authorities in Kampala seeking immediate government action to salvage the project after a fire reportedly destroyed more than 2,000 acres of the plantation.

The northern Uganda-based agricultural project jointly owned by the government, the community members and a private investor, has over the years been a target of alleged arson with successive fires destroying thousands of acres of mature sugarcane.
In a November 8 letter addressed to the State Minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Mr David Bahati, Ms Amina Hersi Moghe, the CEO of Horyal Investments Holding Company Ltd, which has co-invested in the project with government, makes recommendations which she says should be acted on with urgency.

“This is to inform you that we had a fire outbreak in our sugar plantation from yesterday evening (Monday last week) and this is really putting our business at a loss,” the letter seen by Daily Monitor, reads in part, adding: “Remember our factory has been shut down for almost six months due to lack of raw materials and high operation costs which resulted from fire outbreaks that happened earlier on. With this background, I request for urgent collaborative actions with the relevant government authorities to intervene because my business needs to run in a secure environment.”
Ms Moghe urges the government to limit or outrightly prohibit loitering by people or the burning of charcoal in forested areas next to the plantation. She requests that the government “adopts a policy of receding borderlines to clear forest vegetation for at least 30 metres from the fire outbreak.”

“The relevant government agencies must also be involved in curbing these continuous outbreaks and provide a long term solution as we must protect investments whether private or public through a government public, private partnership,” she says. 
On the company’s part, Ms Moghe proposes “the company to have scrapped firebreaks to keep the fire from creeping across the firebreak and escaping from the burning unit.”
She also proposes the company to have early warning systems through periodic monitoring and surveillance and raise incident reports.
Efforts to reach out to minister Bahati were futile as his known phone number was off by press time. 
Ms Damalie Nachuha, the Aswa River Region Police Commander, confirmed the incident at the Atiak sugar project. She said authorities immediately commenced investigations and arrested three people.
“One was found with a lighter, cigarettes and some narcotic drugs. The other two were herding. We were able to impound them and the total number of animals is 126 head of cattle,” she said.
She added: “We are charging them of various offences. We also suspect they could have set the fire on the section of the plantation we found burning, then also illegal movement of animals.”

She explained that President Museveni issued a directive ordering those who are unable to comply with the requirements for animal rearing to leave the area. 
The requirements include having land, fencing it off, a water source, and infrastructure for the care of the animals. She claimed that the group was arrested after being discovered on property that none of them owned and that wasn’t fenced off.
Atiak Sugar factory is part of the beneficiaries of the Shs839.881b supplementary budget government recently gave to a number of entities.