By Sarah Nanteza
What began as a simple Adaptive Research for oil palm growing in Uganda in 1970s by young scientists notably theLate Hon.KibirigeSebunya,Mr.SabastianMatovu and later on Dr.Wetala Patrick hasresulted into over 12,000hectares of oil palm plantation on Bugala Island 33 years later.
Following years of research, in 1991, government started on the road to commercialize Oil Palm Growing on the Island. This was done through a Public Private Partnership (PPP), where a Private Investor partner was sought to invest along the Public(People). The aim was to get an investor with skills and knowledge in the field of oil palm growing and willing to work with the community to pass on the skills. The intention of promoting oil palm production on Bugala was to alleviate poverty, increase domestic production of vegetable oils and reduce Uganda’s heavy reliance on vegetable oil imports. Initially palm oil in particular used to account for 90% of oil imports. Vegetable Oil Development Project (VODP) was established to be in charge of the project.
A Corporate Agreement was signed between Bidco Uganda Limited (BUL), a Refinery Company to develop Oil palm in the Uganda.Bidco together with Wilmer an International Oil Palm Plantation Company based in Malaysia established Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL), which is charged with running the NucleusEstate.OPUL ensures the production of crude oil sent to Jinja to make final products like soap and cooking oil from the palm oil fruit.
Government of Uganda then obtained a loan fromInternational Fund for Agricultural Development(IFAD)for the project to take off.A number of trials were planted across the country namely;Kalangala, Nakabango in Jinja, Kituuza in Mukono among others.Kalangala was found most suitable because of sufficient rains, ideal soils and location.This saw Kalangala get the 3 trials one with Mr.PatrickKankaka of BbetaMugoye Sub County who later became one of the pioneer farmers in 2006.Oil palm being a new crop in the country, a 6,500 hectares nucleus estate was planted to be used as a model for smallholder farmers and bridge the knowledge gap.
At the beginning, many smallholder farmers were reluctant to embrace the commercial oil palm growing. It took a lot of convincing to encourage them to start growing a completely new crop in the country which takes four years before harvest butslowly by slowly farmers picked interest. Starting capital was given to any person willing to plant palm oil in as a loan. The loan wasgiven in form of seedlings, fertilizers,land preparation and farm maintenance as well as technical support. Before one was given a loan, the person interested in farming palm oil had to have not less than ahectare of land where palm oilwould be grown.The loan is paid when the harvest starts, farmers pay 30% of their every harvest until the loan is covered. When the loan is finally covered, the farmers enjoy 100% of their harvest as explained by Nelson Basaalidde, the General Manager Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Trust (KOPGT) in charge of these farmers. The project has been successful, currently,there are1,770 farmers engaged.So far 4,300 hectares of land has already been planted from the targeted 4,700 hectares.
As of today, a total of 3,100,000kgs was harvested by 700 farmers worth 1,500,000,000 billion Shillings. Overall, the farmers have marketed a total of 56,442,449 Kgs since 2010 worth 22.9 billion shillings.
So far 54.4 million kilograms of palm fruit has been marketed on behalf of the farmers. From the 1,770 out growers; 700 are already yielding fruits from the oil palm plantations. The largest oil palm grower in Kalangala earns up to Shs45m a month from a 180-acre plantation. From each acre, it is estimated at Shs250,000 a month.
Constantine Nsubugais living example to this;One hectare of 143 trees, each producing 10 bunches of fruit, weighing anaverage of 18kg earns Nsubuga a net income of a little over Shs.5 million per hectare per year.
The people of Kalangala especially the BbetaMugoye Sub County are enjoying the project’s existence to the fullest.Over 1,800 participating Households standards’ of living has improved. People can now afford to build permanent houses, buy cars and send their children better schools and hospitals on the mainlandwhich was not the case when fishing was the only activity at the Island. One farmer by the names of Nsubuga confessed to having bought car from the palm oil harvest and people named it palm oil. As a benefit to the youth, the project has created direct employment to 1400 Ugandans, with both sexes well represented. In total 3000 plantation workers are employed at the Nucleus estate both skilled and unskilled.
The project has also seen Kalangala locals benefit from OPUL‘s establishment in Kalangala. OPUL has so far invested over 500 million shillings in Corporate Social Responsibilities on the Island; which includes the building of 6 Schools,construction of the Hospitalwith free consultation and rehabilitation of Feeder Roads. The Plantation has attracted another Public Private Partnership -Kalangala Infrastructure Services (KIS). This runsthe 2 ferries on Bukakata –Bugoma Route making 12 trips per day thus easing transport on water between Masaka and Kalangala. Locals of Kalangala district are now connected with electricity 24/7 without blackout. The Hybrid power Plant providing Kalangala people with electricity is sited on 4 acres at BUKUZINDU with 6,000 Solar Panels. Roads construction is taking shape as well. 70KM of the Island main Road from Bugoma to Mulabana is tarmac and others roads have been upgraded to weathered roads. Cleantape water is as well as accessible to people.
The local private investors have come up too to create accommodation thus developing Eco- tourism through investing in the Hotels and Beaches. The beaches have increased from 1 to 20 beaches currently boasting the Tourism sector in the District.
Since the start of harvesting in 2010, farmers have seen the benefit of harvesting the crop and Kalangala is progressively being transformed into a modern district with improved infrastructure and facilities such as banks. There is second project plan for oil palm activities to start on Buvuma Island in Mukono District too.Buvuma will have ceiling set of four hectares per smallholder to extend the base then attract more smallholders rather than having less smallholders with bigger land surface. The project is expected to extend to the rest of the country like Lira, Eastern Uganda, Gulu and West Nile covering 43 districts.
Despite of the achievements, the project is also faced with challenges which include attacks from Environmentalists, International Price fluctuations of CPO and land disputes.