How government lost Shs20b in silkworm project 

Silkworms feed on mulberry. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • TRIDI boss Dr Clet Wandui Masiga has since defended the operations of the project, attributing the challenges to the suspension of funding by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Parliament has suggested a raft of measures in the management of the silkworm farming project after it emerged that more than Shs20b of Shs35b invested in the initiative was wasted.

The silkworm project is one of the science initiatives that has so far received Shs31b from the Innovation Fund established by President Museveni in 2016 and commenced operations in the financial year 2017/2018.

Dr Clet Wandui Masiga, who heads the Tropical Institute for Development Innovation (TRIDI), was one of the researchers who applied for the innovation fund to implement a project titled, “Evaluating the utility of sericulture and apiculture technologies and innovations, as tools for household-wealth creation and employment generation in Uganda.”

The project 
The key targets of the silkworm project were to acquire 50,000 acres of land under mulberry, construct and equip eight research and technology transfer centers, construct 25 million cubic metres of valley water tanks, construct 50,000 silkworm rearing houses, install six complete lines of post cocoon processing equipment in six major regions of Uganda, and install 50 complete sets of 40-end silk reeling factories in 50 districts of Uganda.

The investment was projected to cost about Shs756b over a period of five financial years.

However, the Parliament’s Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation, which investigated the operations of the silk project, observed poor sequencing of the sericulture processes, resulting in the wastage of resources amounting to Shs20.7b.

“The said amount (Shs20.7b) was sunk into the establishment and management of mulberry gardens whose leaves matured and went to waste because the rearing houses were incomplete or nonexistent,” reads the report of Parliament tabled this week.

Silkworm rearing 
“Silkworm rearing houses should have been constructed and equipped before planting the mulberry gardens; and the silkworms introduced towards the maturing of the gardens,” said the committee.

“This would have ensured the achievement of tangible results with the silkworms producing cocoons. On the contrary, more than 2,300 acres of mulberry gardens were established in the absence of silkworm rearing houses.”

Dr Masiga has since defended the operations of the project, attributing the challenges to the suspension of funding by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The project envisaged building eight research and technology transfer centres over a period of five years at a cost of Shs40b.

According to the timeline, by the end of June 2022, five research and technology transfer centres should have been built, but so far only two have been built in Kween and Shema districts. The Parliamentary committee observed that the two newly constructed centres have neither been fully completed nor equipped.

“The buildings did not have approved designs or drawings that would qualify them to be factory facilities; and they were constructed using poor quality materials that only qualified them to be temporary structures,” said the lawmakers.

The buildings had poor lighting, ventilation, and cracked floors even before they were completed, as was observed in Kween District.

For example, the facility in Kween District was located in a low lying area that is prone to flooding, and if the area flooded before the machines were evacuated, they could be destroyed. The report says the shell house on Rubare Farm cost Shs1.2b.

“The cost was not commensurate with the structure in place... The committee recommends that a forensic audit be expeditiously carried out to ascertain value for money for all the building structures erected under the sericulture project managed by TRIDI,” said the MPs.

No titles
Additionally, TRIDI reported having cumulatively purchased 870 acres of land at a cost of Shs8.2b and acquired 50 acres under lease agreements at a cost of Shs200m.

However, the committee discovered that all the land titles for the pieces presented were in individual names and not in the name of TRIDI or GOU, indicating that no sub-division and transfer of land ownership had been done since the purchase of the land.

“This put GOU at risk of financial loss if the subdivision and transfer of the acquired land from private hands to the government are not done expeditiously. Some of the titles had encumbrances, meaning that no due diligence was undertaken before purchasing the land,” the MPs’ report reads in part.

MPs also discovered that there was no evidence of an Environmental Impact Assessment (ElA) carried out to ascertain the extent of threat posed by the silkworm eggs imported from China to Uganda.

“There was no meaningful engagement between TRIDI and agriculture research institutions in the country such as the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) to explore possibilities of local production of silk worms and agronomy best practices for mulberry in the country.

This exposes the industry to reliance on imports of the silkworm eggs rather than opening up avenues for local production and research in the future,” said the MPs.

The Committee said TRIDI must work closely with Naro to explore the production of silkworm eggs in Kawanda Research Station and that funding should be allocated to the silkworm egg production unit in Kawanda to feed the sericulture industry in the country.