Oranges delivered by farmers in Soroti. PHOTO/SIMON PETER EMWAMU

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Why Teso farmers are stranded with fruits

What you need to know:

  • Soroti Fruit Factory has been experiencing capacity challenges, with barely 40 percent of the entire production of fruits in the Teso sub-region being absorbed.

As Uganda strives to boost agro industrialisation while taming the huge import bill, one key area of interest is juice and food concentrates.
Britania Allied Industries, which hitherto imports concentrate worth $55,000 (Shs209 million) per month reveals that it is sourcing quality juice puree from within the country.

Ajith Prasad, the general manager operations at Britania , says “The quality of the supply we are getting from Soroti Fruit Factory is good. We have since reduced by nearly 17percent our import value of concentrates worth $55,000 each month. We shall gradually replace with local supplies.”
This action by one of the country’s leading producers of juice and confectioneries comes at time when the value of the shilling in which they conduct business, is still losing value against the dollar required for placing import orders.

A farmer holds a fruit at a citrus farm in Soroti. PHOTO/ SIMON PETER EMWAMU

The Soroti Fruit Factory, a joint venture between the state-owned Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) and the Teso Tropical Fruit Farmers Cooperative Union, primarily produces the Teju brand; but with very low volumes.

“Soroti Fruit Factory is our flagship project. We aim to grow this business of adding value to fruits in this country.  But we have to add value to these inputs,” says Dr Patrick Birungi, the executive director of the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC).

Currently, various agricultural commodities urgently need value addition in order for the country to reduce its huge import bill and respond to the growing demand.
“We are going to have a challenge if we don’t move fast with the value addition component with fruits, tea or coffee. Soroti Fruit Factory is meant to process fruits, mainly oranges and mangoes,” says Dr Birungi.

Operating below capacity
As long as juice manufacturers continue importing juice concentrate, the local producers will not have market for their products.
Soroti Fruit Factory valued at $11.4 million has been experiencing capacity challenges, with barely 40 percent of the entire production of fruits in the Teso sub-region being absorbed.
“We have since procured a new mango line for enhance processing. Initially, we were processing 48 tonnes per day for oranges and only two tonnes per day for mangoes. We have installed equipment that we can have 120 tonnes per processed,” says Dr Birungi.

He add that the capacity is being improved to address the concerns by the farmers to broaden the uptake of the fruits which otherwise continue to rot away in the field or are sourced by Kenyan processors in their raw form.
The Corporation and the Teso Tropical Fruit Farmers’ Cooperative Union (TEFCU) jointly invested in the Soroti Fruit Factory, with the Corporation owning 80 percent and the Cooperative Union owning 20 percent.
“Our membership are mainly primary cooperatives which are 59 in number. But when you translate that into individual membership, we have more than 6,000 members both male and female,” says Lawrence Emoit, the manager Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union.
He discloses, “We cover 10 districts which have more than 8 million fruiting trees in Teso sub region. We have two seasons and within the first one, we produce about 800,000 tonnes. Even when we supply to the factory, it can not absorb everything we produce in Teso.”

Value addition

Underscoring the importance of rapid value addition and bulk dispatch of orange and mango concentrates to larger and more established actors such as Britania; by way of import replacement; Emoit, reiterates the Union’s commitment to ensure quality of the produce at farm level.
Naads’ new varieties of inputs is helping farmers in expanding the quality of their crop fields and the turn around time for harvests, Emoit notes.
The Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), observes that quality assurance particularly for large scale farmers under unions is very critical, for value addition within the agro processing space to impact.

“These fruits come from the farm where we use good agricultural practices, harvesting, storage, transportation and processing at the factory. This value chain requires scrutiny and that is our call,” urges David Ebiru, UNBS’ executive director.

“What we assess in the juices are contaminates. If the value chain is not closely monitored, there can be some heavy metals. We ascertain the quality checks of these processors including Soroti Fruit Factory before we renew annual licences,” he says.

Government has been struggling with reviving cooperative unions across the country, in rallying farmers to produce at the lowest costs, in larger quantities but with an assured market in vain.
Frederick Ngobi, the State Minister incharge of Cooperatives, says linking value addition ventures to producers such as in the case of Teso, have provided the required impetus.

“These cooperatives if well-structured, are a very formidable tool. The Teso Tropical Fruit Cooperative Union, has done sufficient mobilisation of its members in thousands. We are now moving towards broadening the capacity of the factory production lines and others such as the one in Yumbe,” Ngobi says.

Advising on sustained corporate governance systems, the Minister for Cooperatives says the new models of enhancing agricultural productivity at household levels with emphasis key crops is important.
“Once quality production is addressed at farm gate level, channels for procuring, storage and marketing under cooperative unions are streamlined; then linking the process to value addition and marketing will be very smooth,” Ngobi, notes.

Capitalisation
However, capitalisation of both cooperative unions and industrial off takers could remain a nightmare under such interventions.
Elly Karuhanga, the chairman of the Uganda Private Sector Foundation, says that the government should not shy from the risks in such investments.

“UDC is a very huge (investment) vehicle that can stimulate this public private sector partnerships that we are all yearning for. Look at all these new markets around. DRC is importing very many products from Southern Africa. We must capitalise  on these interventions and take full advantage of these neigbouring markets,” Karuhanga, advises.

“We need to oil this ammunition for investment with strong capital for various targeted interventions. We are in a race for development with other nations. We need to make sure that things do not take time. These opportunities in the supply chain are big. Consider that Africa Free Continental Trade platform,” the private sector champion says.

The Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises says value addition interventions ought to ensure that state-linked projects allow for small operators not only in inputs but all through to the market.
“Government needs to see to it that there are sufficient windows for SMEs to partake and thrive, taking note of capital challenges which in most cases eliminate them. This is our call,” Kakungulu Walugembe, the Federation’s executive director says.

Small holder farmers in Teso sub region say President Museveni’s pleas for them to engage in citrus farming are not enough. They need continuous support around inputs, irrigation systems, herbicides and storage facilities.

“Fruit farming is delicate and far beyond seedlings that government supplies. Imagine what irrigation systems, periodic supplies of treatment against fleas and storage can do in boosting our production?” Rebecca Akello, a farmer in Soroti notes.


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