Cooperatives & Communities

Ntungamo pineapple farmers cry out to gov’t as factory stops operations

NTUNGAMO-Farmers who embraced commercial pineapple growing in Itojo Sub-county and Nyamukana town council in Ntungamo are now crying to the government to help them find buyers after a local juice-processing factory failed to take up the fruits and closed operations.

According to Medard Tumwesigye, a member of Nyakihanga Fruits and Vegetables Grower’s Co-operative and a trader at Nyaruteme market located along Mbarara-Kabale road, currently, five medium-sized pineapples cost Shs 2,000 while small ones cost Shs 300-500.

Justus Tayebwa, a pineapple farmer in Nyaruhama village Nyamukana town council, who owns eight acres of pineapple plantations, finds it unfortunate that pineapples in the area don’t have market, even though farmers have heavily invested in them.

He says “You find an acre of pineapple plantation costing a farmer around 10 mln to reach the harvesting time but at the end of the season each pineapple costs Shs 500 instead of selling it at least Shs 1500-2000.”

During a bumpy season, Tayebwa harvests over 10,000 pineapples but has failed to secure market for the harvests.

“During September-December season, I produce over eight Fuso trucks of pineapples, which means if you want two trailers of pineapples from Ntungamo, you can get them because that is the main season, as it is for February-April,” he explained.

One of the farmers displays some of his pineapples that have stalled in the garden due to lack of buyers (Joshua Nahamya).

Facrtory not buying pineapples

Tayebwa blames the low market price of pineapples on overproduction after farmers were encouraged to plant more pineapples to support the newly constructed fruit factory in 2018.

“When they build a pineapple factory in this area, we planted more pineapples because we were told that in a day it can absorb around 25,000 pineapples. but now it cannot consume even 100 pineapples meaning that the factory did us more harm than good,” Tayebwa added.

Tayebwa says he demands the factory Shs 1 million for the pineapples he supplied to the factory during the commissioning. “I even demand money for 1000 pineapples which they have not paid since 2020, ” he said.

Farmers’ hopes fade

Agnes Kyomukama, also a pineapple farmer, said their hopes to benefit from the factory have faded since it has never collected a single pineapple from the farmers.

“We expected a quick market for our pineapples when the factory was opened but I have never supplied any pineapples to that factory I even don’t know whether it is working,” Kyomukama said.

Idah Nturanabo, district lady councillor representing Itojo Sub-county and Nyamukana town council confirmed that the factory which was constructed to increase the shelf life and durability of pineapples on the market through the value addition chain has collapsed over the last two years.

Factory producing below capacity, operations suspended

Nathan Mutungi, Chairperson Nyakihanga Fruits and Vegetable Growers Cooperative Society admits that the factory was producing below capacity.

“That factory should be actually producing around 8,000 litres a day within 8 working hours but I must admit that when we were still producing, we would only produce like 3000 litres once in a week,” Mutungi said

Mutungi said they suspended the operations in February 2021 because of some missing machines which could not allow full production capacity.

He also said they lack human resources because they don’t have qualified staff to run the factory. “We don’t have anyone to operate the squeezer and boilers, mixing of products and chemicals like the preservatives,” Mutungi said.

“We’ve not started buying pineapples from the farmers; for the few times we’ve produced we have been getting pineapples from the executive board members because we have no money to buy from our farmers” Mutungi added

Factory could collapse!

Mutungi is also worried that there is a likelihood of the factory collapsing if the Memorandum of understanding signed between the cooperative and Uganda Research Institute [URI] expires in 2023.

“Now we have a bill of Shs 7mln on our table but URI has been trying to settle it. We now wonder if we are left to work on our own, we shall manage to meet such bills,” said Mutungi.

Tumwesigye says the fruit factory has not received any financial support from the government to buy the pineapples. “Government has not released capital for Nyakihanga Fruit Factory…It has no capacity to buy pineapples from the farmers,” Tumwesigye said.

Factory premises now occupied by town council

Currently, the factory premises are now being occupied by Nyamukana town council which was elevated in 2018, according to Amwine Bagooka, the LC III chairperson.

Benon Tibamanya, the Ntungamo district commercial officer promised to meet with the executive to forge a way forward.

“What I know is that they elected a new leadership because the former board had weaknesses and there was a problem of power because the pineapple supply is increasing but the factory is not working,” Tibamanya said.

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