Masaka, Kalungu and Rakai districts are set to begin growing oil palm following the success enjoyed by farmers producing the crop in Kalangala. And Synagogue Church International (Kakande Ministeries) is one of the main investors in the project.
On April 7, Samuel Kakande, who heads the church, Vincent Ssempijja, state minister for agriculture as well as district leaders and farmers from the three districts, toured different palm oil plantations on Bugala Island in Kalangala District. The aim was to assess and get to know about oil palm and palm oil production. While oil palm refers to the plant, palm oil is the product.
Kakande Ministries acquired eight square miles along the shores of Lake Victoria in Bukakkata Sub-county, Masaka District. All of which is dedicated to oil palm farming.
“We will also do cage fish farming since we intend to produce fish feeds at our new factory at Bulenga,” Kakande said. “We are doing some farming in Masindi and at the factory we expect to produce more than 1,500 tonnes of fish feeds in a day.”
David Mukasa Balilonda, Kalangala District production coordinator, told the delegation that the farmers are already earning money from the crop. “A household with just an acre under palm oil earns Shs580,000 every month,” he said. The district has 161,000 oil palm growers most of whom have more than one acre under the crop.
He added that when the farmers were given inputs on credit by OPUL (Oil Palm Uganda Limited), the company that produces cooking oil and other products under Bidco. The farmers are currently still paying loans.
“The crop begins to bear fruit at three and a half and four years,” Balilonda said. “Already fifty-eight farmers have paid off their loans after hardly a year of harvesting.”
The farmer must apply fertilisers, which are supplied by OPUL on credit. Plantlets are given to the farmer on credit and this is paid at a set rate of what the farmer gets every month. The farmers are required to pay off their loans within four years.
Coffee vs oil palm
Sylvia Nalwanga, a palm oil farmer, said since OPUL is the only buyer, the farmers have the disaantage of it determining the price, which is unfair. “We hear that palm oil farmers in West Africa enjoy much better prices,” she noted.
Constantine Nsubuga, district chairman, National Union of Coffee and Agri-business Farmers Enterprises (Nucafe), told a farmers’ meeting that the farmers who were also growing coffee had found oil palm more paying than coffee. “A coffee farmer has two harvests in a year and earns money twice a year,” he said. “But a palm farmer earns money every month.”
He told the minister that, in his opinion, the government has neglected the coffee farmers in Kalangala District.
“We could be earning as much money from coffee if the government gave coffee farmers credit the way it does with oil palm farmers. We also need fertilisers, which should be provided on credit. We should also have a coffee processing factory in Kalangala like there is one for oil palm.”
Ssempijja responded by explaining to the farmers not to neglect coffee. “If the government gives inputs to oil palm farmers on credit, it is because the crop is new. There was a need to help the farmers so that they would quickly see the aantages of growing oil palm. The credit will stop and farmers will be encouraged to save and buy the inputs on their own.”
He then cited the example of Vietnam where the farmers find coffee more paying because they put 100 per cent of the fertiliser that the crop needs. This is compared to Uganda where fertiliser use rate is only two per cent.
“You have realised that palm oil is very paying because you apply fertilisers twice a year. If you did the same for coffee. you would have noticed that perhaps coffee is even more paying,” he said.
Ssempijja and his delegation were however disappointed when they were told that the 50,000 plantlets in the OPUL nursery were booked to supply outgrowers in Kalangala District.
Orders in time
For the planned eight-square-mile plantation, about 200,000 plantlets were needed. “We want our farmers in Masaka, Rakai, and Kalungu districts to start planting oil palm in the next rain season, which explains this delegation’s visit,” Ssempijja said.
After some negotiation, it was agreed that the three districts be allocated 3,000 plantlets for them to begin demonstration farms for their farmers.
Nelson Basalidde, general manager, Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Trust, said it takes 14 months to prepare a plantlet, so if orders are made in time, they will get the plantlets next year.
Planting oil palm trees
Fifty eight palm oil trees are planted per acre and one bunch of oil palm nut is harvested from each tree every month on the average.
“Some trees produce two bunches in a month”, David Mukasa Balilonda, Kalangala District production coordinator, pointed out.
A bunch may weigh more than 45 kilogrammes. OPUL pays Shs850 per kilo to the farmer. The older and more nourished the trees are, the heavier its bunches are.
A tree may be productive for up to 40 years but farmers are aised to replace it after between twenty-five and thirty years when it becomes too tall for safe harvesting.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor