Zombo – Until recently, the entire tea farming families in Zombo district and West Nile in general had put politics at the back of their minds, concentrating primarily on tea farming.
Almost 500 committed tea farmers with no attachment to the union, and about 150 under Cooperative society had been unswerving in their venture, greatly with the support from the Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative – EFOTI Limited.
To show that really, there was no politics in tea farming in Zombo and West Nile sub-region entirely, TND News recently spoke to ‘now a politically altered man’, Jimmy Okello, the Chairperson of Zombo Tea Outgrowers Cooperative Society.
Mr Okello, until recently, according to available exclusive information TND News has obtained has been meeting some politicians opposed to the foundation and State Minister for Northern Uganda also the Zombo Woman MP, Grace Kwiyucwiny
The meetings were [often] held at yet to be identified politicians homes – according to sources.
Whereas the details of various meetings convened by one of the politicians with the cooperative leaders are still few, Mr Okello has been told to shun any corporation with EFOTI Limited and its director, Mr Edwin Atukunda Beekunda.
Our reliable informant reveals to us that this politician wants the foundation out of Zombo district so that he’s able to introduce ‘his tea consultant’ dubbed investor.
“Initially, the cooperative didn’t agree with the politician’s demands and Mr Okello and his team had pledged to him they would work with Edwin Foundation to promote tea farming. Soon, after regular meeting and threats, they succumbed to the pressure,” our West Nile informant says.
Now, the informant says the politician is designing all possible means to ensure farmers’ favourite, Mr Atukunda is blackmailed using dubious allegations.
“It’s quite hard for the politician to achieve his targets. That man he wants out of Zombo has achieved much, offered a lot and has obtained support from Alur Kingdom and government – through the Office of the Prime Minister. What he has achieved, offered in terms of capacity building to tea farmers in less than seven months he has been here is angering the legislator,” he added.
Whereas the politician believes Mr Atukunda was taken to Zombo by the State Minister for Northern Uganda, Honourable Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny who’s also the Zombo district Woman MP, Mr Atukunda, like Missionaries and Explorers planned it himself and took his tea journey to Northern Uganda.
“His passion for tea, ensuring that every household is growing and poverty eradication via tea farming are some of the reasons Atukunda got people closer to him. He’s not in West Nile for politics, helping anybody or even a Minister in her politics – he’s for tea farming,” a member of the tea cooperative in Zombo who asked not to be named told TND News on Saturday.
In an interview with TND News recently, Jimmy Okello said only goods things about the foundation: “There are so many success stories to talk about.”
He added: “There’s a promise and people are getting involved and we are signing a Memorandum of Understanding with him (Edwin) soon.”
The Cooperative chairperson added that “when Mr. Atukunda came to Zombo, people started having interest in him; he’s a “radical man – so practical man”.
According to him, EFOTI by then had employed over 80 workers who are working in the Alur Kingdom tea farm and they are being paid good wages for their labour.
“After that, he’s coming back to the Cooperative tea farm,” he told us then.
By next year, Mr Okello added: “We should have 100 hectres of tea farm, an increment of 20 hectres from the current 80.”
Similarly, Oringtho Samuel who’s the chairperson supervisory committee with Zombo Tea Outgrowers Cooperative Society also told TND News is previous interview that when tea was first introduced in Zombo district almost seven years ago, they [farmers] lacked technical skills in tea management.
He also says district was supplying them tea for planting at a wrong season, adding that it has since changed after agricultural officer intervened.
“The tea is picking up but we’re a bit poor. We’re poor and we needed some money for management,” Mr. Oringtho told northern Uganda first digital newspaper, TND News.
With challenges they had, he says they almost “gave up” until they were encouraged the area was suitable for tea farming and market would be available.
He applauded State Minister for Northern Uganda, Honourable Grace Freedom for taking the initiative and introducing Edwin Atukunda, who’s the director EFOTI Limited to them.
“Initially, the planting was not proper so he came and reorganised tree planting and we have picked interest and he’s a person who can work physically,” Oringtho said of Atukunda, then.
“Farmers have now come together and we have all embraced it. Another success story is that we have been blessed to meet people like Edwin Atukunda,” Mr. Okello said.
Tea and bad politics
According to West Nile Web’s news on Friday 29 November, 2019, the state minister for northern Uganda also Zombo district Woman Member of Parliament, Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny has come under unusual attack on social media with a section of personalities accusing her of taking part in the alleged embezzlement of over shs11 billion meant to finance tea growing in Zombo and part of Nebbi district.
“The minister who has been silent over the matter for quite long finally broke the silence saying those pointing accusing fingers should come up with their documentary evidence and stand witness to that,” West Nile Web reported.
“I’m hearing that people including me have stolen tea money but what I know, the tea money was deposited with NAADS under the ministry of agriculture and not on individual accounts but if anyone has evidence that can help in the investigation of allegedly stolen money then the person should come forward and bear witness”, the Minister said – according to West Nile based digital publication.
The publication who spoke to the Minister, says she denied dipping her fingers into the tea treasury and added that the matter concerning the reportedly embezzled tea money is before the Inspector General of Government (IGG).
“The tea money I know about is the shs 180 million that came from NUSAF III to support tea farmers across the district”, Minister said.
The Minister lashed out at the critics of EFOTI Limited who’s shaping the ailing tea gardens, saying a lot is being done by the foundation especially in building the capacity of tea farmers and rehabilitating the almost lost tea gardens.
“The legislator equally urged critics of the Edwin foundation to come up with their evidence against the foundation instead of derailing the people from focusing on what is beneficial to the community and individual households.”
According to West Nile Web, Mr. Jimmy Okello, the chairman Zombo tea cooperative society who had been supportive to the Edwin foundation in our previous interview said what they needed most was the farmers’ capacity building which was and still being built by the foundation.
But it is no longer the view he holds about the Edwin foundation. Okello said he is supportive of the tea growing in Zombo and whatever they are doing or saying as Zombo tea cooperative society now is to fight the deliberate wrongs being done to cheat tea farmers.
Mr Atukunda, in an interview with TND News, said: “The problem is that most leaders don’t think business.”