Why Shs20b Church cassava project has hit a dead end

Gulu Archbishop John Baptist Odama receives a new tractor from Naads to boost agricultural production under the project in June 2021. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

What you need to know:

  • The project, which was launched by President Museveni in Nwoya District in 2020, was expected to help many residents in the north fight poverty.

The fate of the cassava commercialisation project in Northern Uganda has hit a dead end just three years after it was rolled.

Rev Fr Mathew Okun Lagoro, the project manager in Gulu Catholic Archdiocese, attributes the lack of progress to lack of funds.

“We have now decided to propose to the Parish Development Model (PDM) Secretariat on how to synergize PDM and the cassava project; this will work out perfectly through the unity of minds between the cassava programme, local government, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade,” he says.

In the last three years, Fr Okun said the government has not given any financial and technical assistance to the programme despite constant reminders.

Disputing claims of mismanagement, he states that all the money that they have been using to pay farmers came from the National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) while the cassava cuttings came from the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) programme.

Fr Okun says  the government used to send Shs100m as an oversight fund to the programme yearly, which they did for only years (2018 and 2019).

He states that the project had received Shs8b both in cash and planting materials before the onset of Covid-19.

On March 7, 2020, President Museveni launched the Acholibur Parish Project (APP) and Bukoona Agro processors distillery factory in Nwoya District. The factory was to process ethanol from cassava produced under APP.

The President announced in a special meeting with the religious leaders and other stakeholders that the Cabinet had approved a budget of Shs33b to support the archdiocese in Financial Year 2020/21.

The funding was for the commercialisation and industrialisation of cassava production, not only in Acholi but also across Northern Uganda.

The President also instructed that the Archbishop John Baptist Odama takes the lead role in the implementation of the project in coordination with the ministries of Agriculture and Finance.


In partnership with Gulu Archdiocese, Bukona Agro Processors Ltd then mobilised more than 20,000 farmers under 33 cooperative societies to grow cassava meant for consistent supply to the factory.

In August 2021, the church signed another MoU with Naads and added Agago, Kitgum and Amuru districts onto the project.

Dr Samuel Mugasi, the Naads executive director, said in an interview then that nearly Shs3b had been earmarked that financial year to boost cassava production.

In the MoU, Naads was to provide financial, technical, and expatriate support to strengthen farmers’ capacity while the church’s main role was to mobilise farmers, guide and organize them in groups to make sure they are ready to receive the planting materials.

However, Mr Walter Omona, the chairperson of Central Cell in Acholibur Town Council, says the last thing the farmers got from the project since its launch in March 2020 are cassava cuttings that were delivered late and distributed to farmers under OWC.

Due to a lack of proper follow-up by the managers, many community members abandoned the project.

“We wonder why the management could not explain clearly to the members the money being paid for the operation of the project yet we thought this was a government project to support the community and lift them out of poverty,” Mr Omona says.

“When the management of the project induced members to register by filling out forms to indicate the number of acres of cassava one has before the project buys, a big fraction of those that filled the forms did not have even a single cassava stem in their backyards,” he adds.

Mr Cyprus Komakech, a farmer in Acholibur, says the Acholibur Parish Project (APP) has not benefitted the people.

“We were promised a tractor that would be used by the community to support cassava growing, when Naads gave the archdiocese the tractor, it was delivered to Acholibur here but the story quickly changed,” Mr Komakech says.

“When you want the tractor to plough your garden, you are required to pay between Shs50,000 and Shs80,000 per acre at the beginning but the management increased the amount to Shs100,000 without consulting us, more than what commercial tractor hire services would charge,” he adds.


The locals accused the archdiocese of failing to manage the project. According to Mr Komakech, the proposed site for the establishment of a starch factory at a parish was relocated to a family land owned by one of the church leaders, which disoriented the community members.

To corroborate the accounts of the locals that the tractor broke down and has since been abandoned, Daily Monitor discovered the damaged tractor parked at Acholibur Police Post in Pader District.

A police officer at the post, who asked not to be named, said the equipment was brought by the church and parked at the facility to save it from thieves and vandals.

“There was no better place to keep it and it was brought here, the mission (church) said once the mechanics arrive, they would repair and remove it from here, but it has been here for seven months now,” the officer said.

Feasibility studies were done by the Uganda Development Corporation to establish a starch factory in Acholibur and results were submitted to the Office of the Prime Minister, Office of the President, and Gulu Archdiocese.

However, nothing is yet to start regarding the project.

Mr Saidu Opoka Adolatona, the Pader District agricultural officer, says they learnt that the tractor was once parked at a private residence and later picked up by the management and brought to the police post.

Dr Charles Aben, the officer-in-charge of the Cassava Commercialisation Project at the Naads Secretariat, explains that the project was progressing well with the financial assistance and technical support being provided by Naads for three years until 2021 when the agency ran into a budgetary problem.

“Since 2021, we have not been able to get a vote. Naads rearranged the thing in terms of the commodity we are supposed to support; things such as cassava were pulled out of the budget, mangoes, citrus, tea, cocoa and we remain with only minimum activity,” Dr Aben says.

Adding: “They introduced avocado, macadamia, and cashew; there was a change in the programme and budget that is why for 2022/2023 and 2023/2024, we have not been able to spend any money on that project, which mainly depends on our funding.”

Mr Ventorino Okumu, the cassava commercialisation project officer at the archdiocese, says the church will now focus on demand-driven priority to support farmers due to limited funding.

“We have more than 10,000 farmers and we have advised them to inter-crop their cassava plantations with other crops such as maize, beans, and soya beans, which cannot destroy the cassava, in turn helping in food security,” Mr Okumu says.

He says the challenge now is lack of market for the mature fresh cassava, which has been planted by the farmers under the project.

“There is no market for fresh cassava; we are still lobbying for a cassava dryer machine to help our farmers because we have a market for dried cassava at the Bukona factory,” Mr Okumu says.

The cassava distillery plant, which was constructed for $6 million (about Shs22.2 billion), was to process ethanol, glucose, and other industrial products from locally produced cassava in northern Uganda.

However, the factory has not been operational due to insufficient raw materials.

According to Mr Aben, with the Shs3 billion, they were able to supply 75,000 bags of cassava cuttings, which were distributed to the farmers, and in the first year (2018), they supplied about 50,000 bags of cassava cuttings with the Shs2 billion.

Looking back

The Acholibur Parish Project was launched in Acholi Sub-region by President Museveni in March 2020. The President announced in a special meeting with the religious leaders and other stakeholders that the Cabinet had approved a budget of Shs33b to support the archdiocese in Financial Year 2020/21. 

Under the initiative, more than 20,000 farmers were  mobilised to grow cassava in Pader District. 

In August 2021, the church signed another MoU with Naads and added Agago, Kitgum and Amuru districts onto the project.

Gulu Archdiocese set up a demonstration farm on a 10-acre piece of land in Bardege-Layibi Division, Gulu City to promote commercial cassava growing.

Butin the last three years, the church says the government has not given any financial and technical assistance to the programme.