Four hundred Local Defence Unit personnel, LDUs, have been deployed to help plant sugarcane for Ayuu Alali Cooperative Society Limited in Lamwo district.
The Ministry of Agriculture resorted to using the LDUs after Mohamoud Abdi Mohammed, Executive Director Horyal Investment Holding Company Limited, the company overseeing the sugarcane project, last week said 600 tonnes of the sugarcane seedlings had already dried up and 800 tonnes were set to expire this week because of shortage of labour.
According to Abdi, the project had only 200 out of the 900 people needed to plant the sugarcane on 6500 hectares of land that are ready for sugarcane growing, out of a total 15,000 hectares.
The company has struggled to recruit local labourers from Lamwo district and continues to face high labour turnover. Attempts to recruit skilled labour from Kamuli district were halted in April over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, 400 LDUs from Lamwo, as well as the neighbouring Kitgum district, were over the weekend taken to the farm to help plant the sugarcane.
Brig. Michael Kabango, the Fifth Infantry Division Commander said the Ministry of Agriculture through other government departments asked for their help in order to save the project.
“After land had been ploughed and seeds procured, government realized there was going to be a very big loss. The ministry approached the relevant leadership, who asked us for help, so that that money, worth billions of shillings, does not go to waste,” Kabango said.
He said all the LDUs involved in the project were screened prior, and will not be allowed to mix with the community, to minimize risks of infection by covid-19.
“We are not mixing with anybody. We are prohibiting contacts with the local population. Ours is easy because it is a force and the soldiers are from within.”
Francis Ojwiya, the Chairperson Ayuu Alali Sugarcane Cooperatives Society said the 400 LDUs will be used for two weeks to help reduce the burden of planting on the 200 civilians.
“There are so many cane seeds drying yet it was bought with public money. Although we are still short by 300 people, the LDUs will help us plant the available cane seeds because they are a heavy workforce,” Ojwiya said.
On whether the LDUs have the skills to plant the sugarcane, Ojwiya said there are many agronomists in the district who are training the LDUs on the job.
“They [agronomists] show you how it is done. The training takes only a short time. Planting is not hard,” Ojwiya said.
Last week, the minister of health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng and Agriculture minister, Vincent Ssempijja, visited the sugar plantation and said government had agreed that 400 workers be brought from Busoga sub-region to save the project, on condition that the labourers are screened.
However, Komakech John Ogwok, the Lamwo district Chairperson, said that he, together with all the district councillors later disagreedwith the plan. This is the second time the district leadership is refusing to importlabour from outside.
“Both presidential directives and MoH guidelines prohibit movement of people. It is sad that the very government that set those rules is the very one going against the rules,” Ogwok said.
“The whole district council is against the idea of bringing workers from outside, but they think we are politicking. We are not. We are not trying to frustrate the project but want to protect our people. This is a matter of life and death.”
Ayuu Alali Sugarcane Cooperatives Society comprises of some 3,000 beneficiaries and has distributed five hectares to each member for sugarcane plantation.