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Teso Farmers’ Cooperative Union (TEFCU) Chairman Opiam Jorem Obicho is accused of impoverishing poor farmers through low pricing & monopolistic tendencies.

By Joel Mugabi

A report by Parliament’s Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry has unearthed rot and gross irregularities in the management of Soroti Fruit Factory. Established by the Government of Uganda to transform agriculture and promote value addition in the Teso sub-region, Soroti Fruit Factory has been struggling. To understand the challenges faced by the factory, the Committee on Trade, Tourism and Industry undertook investigations into the operations of the multi-billion facility.

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On March 02, Committee Chairperson Mwine Mpaka (Mbarara City South – NRM) presented findings from a probe into the management of the factory. According to the youthful MP, the factory is yet to be utilized to fulfil the objective for which it was set up given that ‘mismanagement’ has left farmers demoralized. Ndawula D Kakyukyu is the C.E.O Soroti fruits factory and therefore the overall management boss.

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The committee found out that Teso Farmers’ Cooperative Union (TEFCU), which holds 20 per cent of the factory’s shares and has the enviable and lucrative responsibility of buying fruit from farmers, had failed to meet the obligations in the Local Purchasing Orders, and had not been able to meet the factory’s demand for three years now.

The irony with this is that demoralized and disappointed farmers have left fruits to rot in orchards. Local farmers are not happy with the fact that they are not allowed to directly supply the factory, since TEFCU is the sole supplier.

The union offers lower prices that make it difficult for farmers to make any profit. For example, the committee found out that while TEFCU buys a 120kg sack of oranges from farmers at a price between Shs15,000 and Shs20,000, the cooperative sells the same sack to the Soroti Fruit Factory at Shs70,000.

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The union is also accused of refusing to weigh the fruit, something Mpaka described as exploitative. The committee suspects that the alleged exploitation at the hands of TEFCU could be the reason behind decisions by some farmers to cut down orchards or ignore ripe fruits to rot in the plantations.

Mpaka and his colleagues also discovered that the factory bosses had inflated the cost for the construction of a perimeter wall. That while Shs734m had been budgeted for this task, a whopping Shs2.5bn was spent. The committee boss narrated that whereas Willis International Engineers and Construction Limited had quoted Shs734m for the perimeter wall, Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) signed another contract with the same construction firm even before the end of the period for the first one. The other shocking revelation was that the constructed perimeter wall did not meet the set standards. Given the shoddy work, the wall is said to already be in bad shape and could collapse soon.

There were also concerns on the poor construction of roads under the fruit factory project. The committee was irked by the fact that certain sections of the roads were constructed through swamps and streams but were not given proper drainage, something the MPs said had made the roads prone to flooding and impassability. They also wondered why the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and Ministries of Finance and Works had been left out during the processes for the planning and procurement of the roads.

The revelations by the Mpaka committee will be a subject of debate in Parliament sometime next week and a number of recommendations aimed at streamlining the operations of the fruit factory are expected to be made. (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0705579994 [whatsapp line], 0779411734, 0200900416 or email us





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