Amuru, Zombo—3, September 2020: Northern Uganda went through a protracted war, leading to several calamities. The notable war was a warfare between Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels under top leader Joseph Kony and government forces (UPDF).
The war lasted two decades from 1987 when Kony waged a war against President Museveni, but concentrated in killing, maiming, destroying property of the innocent people of Acholi, Lango, Teso and part of West Nile sub-regions.
The LRA war ended in 2006, after Kony and his troops chose peace—leading to the signing of a “Cessation of Hostilities Agreement” with government in August 2006.
With northern Uganda under rebels’ siege at that time, other regions of the country were undergoing industrial development, service delivery was not affected and other social-economic services were uninterrupted.
With the war, it meant reaching out to the population in time of need was difficult; major government’s programs and projects were postponed for fears of it being destroyed by rebels, or those implementing were to be abducted or even killed.
The region is known growing cotton (not very common now), maize, simsim, millet, cassava, beans and groundnut, among others.
While coffee was also grown in some sub-regions in the region, especially by men in their 60s+ (retired civil servant), in late 2010, Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) introduced coffee farming in mid-northern Uganda under “Northern Uganda Coffee Project (NUCP)”.
The NUCP, according to UCDA, was for a special interest in Gulu, Nwoya, Amuru, Lamwo, Lira, Kole, Oyam and Dokolo districts.
According to NUCAFE, UCDA has distributed 250,000 coffee seedlings, 4,000 banana suckers and 371,000 shade tree seedlings to the above districts in the previous financial year.
It adds that a total of 115.5 metric tones of Kiboko coffee were marketed by farmers during the coffee year ending September 2012.
In Lango sub-region, the agency said they marketed 83.5 metric tones and 32 metric tones in Acholi sub-region, while in West Nile, Arabica coffee continues to be the predominant coffee grown in the area and this covers Zombo, Nebbi and Arua, with 8,706 hectares being grown by 72,345 households.
Emerging (new) cash crops in northern Uganda
Even with the cash crops mentioned above being grown in northern Uganda, and supported by government, it has never caused industrialisation like it’s now in other regions.
The region itself and farmers have remained an agrarian society with little hope for industrial upgrade.
However, with the emergence and rapid uptake of two new cash crops; tea and sugar cane, northern Uganda’s future looks, with a focus on industrialisation, job creation and production.
The first tea (plantation) to have been planted in the region was that of 1968 in Zeu sub-county, Zombo district. The historical tea garden is undergoing revival by a tea research; management and training company, the Edwin Foundation Tea Initiative, popularly known countrywide as EFOTI LTD.
Now under Alur Kingdom, the historical tea garden is being turned into a tea training and demonstration farm for the “tea and non-farming tea families” in West Nile sub-region.
In his most recent interview with this digital publication, Edwin Atukunda Beekunda, the director of EFOTI LTD, and a tea expert, spanning to four decades, says “there is big hope for northern Uganda as a region, and farmers who have chosen tea as their best cash crop”.
Mr Atukunda says what remains now if for government to come swiftly and establish the factory she promised farmers.
“We have built the capacity of over 300 tea farmers, including government prisons’ officials; district and cultural leaders in Zombo and Gulu districts. Over five districts in the region have been considered for the same in coming months,” he said.
Alongside his company, Mr Atukunda has sharply restored hopes among tea farmers, many of whom had abandoned their tea gardens because government was not supporting them.
Aneniwu Patrick, the District Agricultural Officer for Zombo district has come out to applaud the EFOTI LTD’s intervention, saying: “…you are aware that tea had a lot of challenges and indeed the challenges still continues as you can see, down there is a smallholder farmer who is failing to manage his garden and the tea is surviving.”
He made this statement late last year when a team from NAADS Secretariat in Kampala; local leaders from West Nile districts visited a tea estate belonging to Hon. Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, State Minister, Northern Uganda, also the Zombo district Woman MP.
Birombo John Orwiny, the Zombo district LC5 Chairperson, has asked all leaders in West Nile to preach about tea.
“Tea is there. Tea situation is real and now taking off. You are aware recently the district has agreed to host the industrial hub for West Nile, and this is the place we anticipate much to be done on tea, and more are yet to be done. Although we see others failing, that is a reason why we need you to come in so that we work together,” Mr. Birombo added.
According to Atukunda, there are now enough green leaves to warrant a tea factory in the sub-region.
Mr Ali Lule who’s the NAADS’ Coordinator for Northern Uganda has also gotten excited about rapid tea project in West Nile, and northern Uganda entirely.
Speaking during his most recent visits to a tea estate in Zombo, he said: “There were no blocks here, but now we can see tea. All these teas were not there, but now for me I’m seeing progress.”
He added, then: “Zombo is moving forward, even leading all others the way we want—especially in tea. There’s a lot of hope, so we think we just need to encourage others.”
According to Lule, they have been moving to other places, affirming: “The tea is there, but it’s not clean as this. So, we also just need to encourage them, to show them—especially you [The Prime Minister—he meant the Alur Kingdom Premier] your voice is high; is big and in our King, please you help us; even if it’s talk, talk to them [tea farmers]. That’s enough for them, they will understand.”
“You see, tea is a beauty. In Kabarole we have been having tourists just coming to see tea. Here, am seeing many Dollars coming, they are coming; our people are getting rich and we are going to get happy, all of us.”
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This digital publication has learnt that government, through Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) have decided to establish a tea withering facility in Zombo (to carter for entire West Nile) soon, as it looks for more funding to put up a complete tea factory.
“As we wait for government to come in, we are also innovative; we are processing, adding value and packaging tea already. We have Zombo Royal Tea and it’s in our local market,” Edwin Atukunda reveals.
Besides tea, Horyal Investment Company Holding Limited also known as Atiak Sugar Limited is transforming northern Uganda with its sugar project.
Now at production phase, the Sugar factory located in Gem village, Atiak sub-county, Amuru district is one key investment going to shape the region; post-LRA conflict.
Besides creating employment for both the underprivileged people (who were affected by LRA war) and the learned group, the Atiak sugar factory has a capacity to crush 1,650 tonnes (1,650,000 kg) of raw cane daily. This translates to producing 66,000 tonnes (66,000,000 kg) of powder sugar annually.
“With funds from NAADS, the Atiak Sugar Factory in Acholi sub-region is completed meant to support about 3,500 sugarcane growers from the districts of Amuru, Gulu, Adjumani and Lamwo district and hoped to lift thousands of lives; NAADS with government of Uganda have contributed to the funding of this project, which is likely to bring down prices of sugar in the country and create massive employment in the Acholi-sub region,” a statement from NAADS’ official website reads.
Many, including experts, predict that northern Uganda, in the next decade, might be an industrial hub, now with the existence of three regional cities; Arua, Lira and Gulu.
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