More than 1500 cattle keepers surrounding Maruzi Ranch in Apac district are stranded following an order by the proprietor of Hill Side Agricultural Investment Limited stopping them from grazing their livestock on the ranch land.
Sitting on approximately 64 square kilometers of land, Maruzi Ranch has been home to more than 1500 squatters since 1995.
In 2019, the government allocated 54 square miles of Maruzi Ranch land to Hillside Agricultural Investment Ltd under a 50-year lease, to be used for the establishment of Palm Oil production.
However, an agreement between the government and the company stipulated that 10 square kilometers of the Ranch land be left for use by the project-affected communities and for outgrowing activities.
Now residents neighboring the ranch have accused the agricultural company’s authorities of denying them the opportunity to graze their livestock there.
The LC II Chairperson of Tarogali parish in Ibuje Sub County, Constantine Okao, told theCooperator that he has received an order from the investor to stop any grazing activity by residents on the land, on grounds that it will destroy their plantations.
Okao has now called upon the government to guide on the next course of action for the affected residents, because they have nowhere else to graze their cattle.
Veronica Akello, a resident of Tarogali parish who owns about 78 heads of cattle, said she is now left with no option following the ban by Hillside Company.
“My animals are now scavenging; I fear that they will soon start dying if the situation is left unattended to,” she said.
Another farmer, Paul Ocen a resident of Acamkado and owner of over 200 heads of cattle said he has started selling off some of his animals cheaply as a result of the ongoing situation.
“If I don’t sell the animals, they will die. The agreement was very clear that we would be given somewhere to graze our animals. I call upon the district leaders to come to our rescue,” Ocen said in an interview.
The Apac District Speaker, Peter Obong Acuda, said that he has already met with the Director of Hill Side Agricultural Investment Ltd and asked him to hold off on the eviction directive as an amicable solution found for the affected residents.
“I engaged the manager and agreed that we should allow members of the community to graze their animals, and there should be no forceful eviction of residents from grazing their animals within the area. We are waiting for what shall be given to us in terms of 10 square miles,” he said in a telephone interview.
In 1968, the government of Uganda leased out the Maruzi Ranching Scheme to Uganda Livestock Industries Ltd for a period of 99 years.
However, as a result of the insurgency in Northern Uganda that started in the late 1980s, the business of Uganda Livestock Industries Limited was disrupted, leading to the eventual collapse of the Ranching Scheme.
With the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution, and the subsequent enactment of the Land Act Cap. 227, the land reverted back to the government of Uganda under the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Industries.
Over the years, given the prevailing unrest within the region and the resultant internal displacement of the population, the ownership of the land became a matter of community concern.
Chuck Deome, the Manager at Hillside Agricultural Limited said the ban is meant to safeguard their plantations from destruction by animals.
He, however, said the company is working closely with local leaders to handle the matter.
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