In 2012, you planned to expand palm tree plantation into Buvuma Island. What is the progress so far?
Based on the project agreement (Vegetable Oil Development Project) that we signed, the Uganda government was supposed to give us 24,000 hectares and the out growers provide 16,000 hectares of land across the country. In all, we were supposed to develop 40,000 hectares of oil palm plantations, which would have given us 200,000 tonnes of edible oil, equivalent to about 50% of the current consumption level.
Unfortunately, we got stuck on Bugala Island where we did about 6,000 hectares and out growers about 4,000 hectares. Off the out growers, 3,000 hectares just joined us in the last three years having seen how other farmers were benefitting from the project and the yield is yet to start. This project was supposed to have been completed in 2010. So far, we have completed phase I and we need to go to phase II, III and IV.
In Buvuma Island, the government says it has acquired land. With a total of 10,000 hectares of land, 4,000 hectares will come from out growers. At the moment, we are simply waiting for the government to hand over the land to us.
The process of acquiring land seem to have taken long because the government does not own land and it was therefore trying to secure it based on willing buyer, willing seller. But there’s have always been divergent views. The squatters were also too many and we had at some point given up on the project on the Island.
But after seeing the progress on Bugala Island, the government insisted that we must extend the project to Buvuma Island. Now the government is having a very ambitious plan with International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) of revisiting the 40,000 hectares of land with the farmer being the ultimate beneficiary. Probably, we will be starting the project next month. This will involve importing seeds, starting the nursery bed, set up infrastructure – roads, electricity and offices.
You have been accused from all fronts over pollution of L. Victoria. How do you plan to handle issues of environmental degradation on Buvuma Island to avoid a similar backlash?
With matters environment, I don’t think anybody can claim that he/she is completely environmental friendly in executing any project. But the World Bank initiated this project, did its own environmental study and floated tender for the private sector participation. We also did our own environmental assessment once again and it was approved. We put in places mitigating measures. Later, people started saying that we are cutting down trees.
This prompted International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to come in and carried out its own assessment again. Therefore various parties did their environmental assessments, send them to NEMA and were approved. It is only unfortunate that some people find it easier to attack us.
On Buvuma Island, we are replicating what we did on Bugala Island with regard to environmental protection. In our existing plantation, we haven’t burnt a single log and we have allowed plants to grow and hold the soil. Therefore, we learnt a lot from the previous project. We have also appointed an international Non-Governmental Organisation from Switzerland to guide us in improving our existing Island and in developing a new one.
How much do you plan to invest in Buvuma Island?
We are going to invest US$70million in the next five years. We will invest first in plantation, palm oil milling and the associated infrastructure.
What is the future outlook of Bidco Uganda Limited?
To me, Uganda is one of the most stable countries in this region. And the leadership, all said and done, provides good guidance to the economy. Stable business environment and policies are key to growth of business.