Contrary to widespread gloomy economic projections in the post-COVID future, citrus farmers in Teso sub-region are optimistic that they will grow their market share in the East African region due to “the mutual understanding that the sister countries have developed during the pandemic.”
“I know post COVID-19 will offer orange farmers a good platform to sell their produce to countries in East Africa and this will fetch us market,” said James Elianu, the Chairperson, Aipecitoi Farmers Group Association (AFGA) in Kyere sub-county, Serere district.
The farmers are especially looking forward to restoration of bilateral relations between Kampala and Kigali since, they say, Rwanda was an important market for them.
Ivan Aisu, a beneficiary of the Operation Wealth Creation programme and Local Council Chairperson for Akumoi village in Pingire sub-county, Serere district, said:
“Before Rwanda and Uganda went into the state of disagreement, the Rwandan businessmen offered us good prices for our oranges. But immediately there was a border issue where Kagame closed his borders with Uganda, our products lost market.”
Aisu, who owns a 10-acre orchard of oranges, urged presidents Museveni and Kagame to resolve their differences for the sake of their countries, saying he has failed to sell his oranges to Soroti Fruit factory citing low prices.
Meanwhile, John Onapito, the biggest orange producer in Teso says he is capable of supplying the factory with at least 40 tonnes of oranges per season, but is unable to do so because he is not a registered farmer with any cooperative society, which is a qualification for all farmers wishing to sell their citrus to the factory.
He too is counting on supplying buyers from the region after lifting of the COVID-related strictures.
“I am waiting to see what the post COVID-19 situation will be like in the region. The moment businesspersons from Rwanda are allowed to come back to Uganda to buy our farm products then I will not have any problem,” he said.
Jorem Opian Obicho, the Chairperson, Teso Tropical Fruit Farmers Cooperative Union,which is comprised of 59 cooperative societies, said many farmers in Teso started growing oranges at the President’s urging, hoping that Soroti Fruit factory would buy their produce. Instead, he says, it has turned out to be a white elephant.
“There are eight million orange trees in Teso, and we produce over 1.2 million tonnes of oranges, but only supply 300,000 tonnes to the factory,” Obicho says.
“The factory is incapacitated in its consumption rate of the oranges and this has forced farmers to look around for market in the neighbouring countries such as Kenya, South Sudan and Rwanda.”