BY PATRICK JARAMOGI
Bulambuli, Uganda: Before they ventured in massive commercial rice growing, Kingdom Rice trading as FOL Logistics were the largest rice importers in the country, importing over 90,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice from Pakistan.
Now trading as Zeus Agro Limited, the firm that stopped rice importation last year and invested USD8 million (UGX30billion) in a 10,000-acre rice farm in Bulambuli district is now crying foul over government failure to construct an 11 km access road to the rice farm.
For the last 24 months, surveyor and engineers have had it rough surveying and accessing the rice farm located some 10kms along with the Bududa landslide victim resettlement camp at Busangi, Mbunambutye Sub County in Bulambuli district.
Towards the end of 2019, Zeus Agro Limited was due to harvest their first totaling 3,700 metric tonnes of rice.
Management cry foul
Adito Geoffrey, the farm director revealed that on 27th September 2019, before they begun harvesting, they wrote to the Minister for Works seeking help regarding the construction of the access road to plot 170 Bulambuli Zeus Agro Limited Rice Farm. On 14th November 2019, the farm management again wrote to the Works minister under reference (Ref: ZAL/MOWT/09/2019) see letter attached.
“Hon Minister we refer to our letter dated 27/09/2019 where we requested for your assistance in the construction of access road to our 10,000-acre rice farm. We are greatly disappointed that ever since we started requesting for assistance in the construction of this road no Government department has come up to our rescue,” Adito complained in the letter.
He went further: “The road situation has completely gone bad that without tractors the farm is inaccessible. The rain that has frequently been falling has left no road. A few snapshots of the current situation have been documented
here for your knowledge.”
“We expect to harvest the equivalent of 150 containers loads (3,700MT) of
paddy in the coming month of December, Hon. Minister, with the current
state all that we shall harvest if we cannot transport to the mill out of
the farm for processing, will all go to waste.”
Adito explained to the Minister that for the previous 45 days they had not been able to service the farm with diesel fuel to run the generators and irrigation pump neither
were they able to get water delivered for use on the farm.
“Other than the employees of the farm we have 45 soldiers deployed for security who are also suffering with us due to lack of supply of food rations occasioned by no road,” he said in the letter.
To make matters worse, when we visited the farm we observed that the farm was not connected to the electricity grid, which stops some 6kms at the Bududa Landslide victims’ resettlement camp.
Adito explained: “The farm is not on the Government electricity grid supply neither is serviced by National water supplies. We have to depend on this now impassable road to get those supplies. Hon. Minister if you do not come to our rescue as a matter of urgency, this investment that is so far estimated at 8 million US dollars is all headed to collapse.”
“We stopped rice importation to go into backward integration to service the rice mill as agreed in the Memorandum of understanding signed with Statehouse and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA). To our disappointment, we have been left alone with no support to get this working.” According to the farm managers, no response has come from Minister for Works, neither Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA).
Zeus Agro Rice Farm had plans of integrating over 20,000 farmers in the Lango sub-region to act as out-growers of the rice to boost their production target of 200,000 metric tonnes of rice annually. Read (https://shiftmedianews.com/zeus-agro-limited-to-train-20000-farmers-in-modern-rice-growing)
Zeus Agro Limited CEO writes to Finance Minister
Similarly on 27th September 2019, under REF ZAL/MOFPED/09/2019) Mohammed Ahmed Bawazir, the Chief Executive Officer Zeus Agro Limited penned a letter to the Hon, Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development, Matia Kasaijja (That we have obtained).
“Hon Minister we wish to report to you that our first rice harvest from our farm at Busangi, Mbunambutye Sub County in Bulambuli District, Bugisu sub-region is ongoing and the results are amazing. We are however worried of how we are going to transport the harvest to our processing point with impassable roads that we have.”
Mohammed explained further: “Hon Minister, the 11 KM access road to the 10,000-acre farm that we constructed at the beginning, has now become impassable.”
Mohammed said the two new excavators e machines that they had brought along with low loaders and excavators got stuck and sunk on the road.
“We need to hire a 50-ton crane from Kampala to recover both hired trucks and the excavator. The farm is expected to produce 120,000 metric tonnes of rice per annum, that is needed to meet the country’s shortfall that is being imported,” said Mohammed
“The 120,000 MT can be transported by 6000 trucks each of 20MT. The road capacity, therefore, that is needed for this should handle over 12,000 trucks,” he said in his letter to Matia Kasaija.
He noted that the road doesn’t only the farm, but also the UPDF officer deployed in the areas as well as the farmlands of the Bududa Landslide victims.
Matia Kasaija responds
On November 12th, 2019 the Hon. Minister for Finance, Planning & Economic Development, Matia Kasaijja wrote to the Minister for Works Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala asking that he acts as per the request of the Zeus Agro Rice Farm Limited (See letter attached). “Reference is made to the attached letter Ref: ZAL/MOFPED/09/2019 dated 27th September 2019 from the Chief Executive Officer Zeus Agro Limited requesting for construction of the 11-kilometer access road to their 10,000-acre rice farm. The CEO has indicated that while they had earlier on constructed the above-stated road, it has now become impassable yet they are harvesting their first rice crop.”
Kasaija added: “They are expected to produce 120,000 MT of rice per annum (Also read: https://shiftmedianews.com/special-report-uganda-to-stop-rice-importation-as-kingdom-rice-boosts-production-in-17-sq-mile-farm/) and will, therefore, go a long way in improving the country’s trade balance through import substitution. The construction of the road will not only enable Zeus to transport the harvest from the farm and market it to different communities across the country but will also facilitate the movement of people from neighboring communities and UPDF who use the road as a security road for the resettled Bududa landslide victims.”
Kasaija concluded his letter to Gen. Katumba Wamala with a directive: “The purpose of this letter, therefore, is to request you to prioritize the construction of this road within the budget of Ushs133.74 billion allocated to the project 0307 Rehabilitation of District Roads under your Vote for the FY2019/20.”
The Farm Manager told this reporter at the farm that five months down the road nothing is forthcoming. “Our investment is ruined, it’s gone, look at the stuck trucks, Works, UNRA, Office of the Prime Minister have all abandoned us. We can’t do anything right now given the start of the new rain season,” said Faizal
Gen. Katumba Wamala Reacts
All our efforts to get UNRA Boss Allen Kagina were futile, when we contacted Mark Ssali, the Communications Director at UNRA, he said: “Let me find out from my colleagues.” The Mbale UNRA officials, when contacted, said they don’t have money.
But the Minister for Works, Gen. Katumba Wamala in a communication dated 17th January 2020 (that we obtained) addressed to the Director Zeus Agro Limited titled: URGENT REQUEST FOR SECURITY DEPLOYMENT AT OUR RUCE FARM ON PLOT 170 BULAMBULI said: “Reference is made to your letter ZAL/MOW01/2020 dated January 12th, 2020 on the above subject matter.”
“This is, therefore, to respond as here below: The request for security should be directed to the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) or the Inspector General of Police.”
“The Intervention by the Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) was because of the cry by the company but the road is a farm road and not on the UNRA Network, However, UNRA will finish what it started.”
The letter from Gen, Wamala was copied to the Minister of State for Works, State Minister for Transport, The Permanent Secretary, Works and Transport, the Chief of Defence Forces as well as Allen Kagina the Executive Director UNRA.