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SPOTLIGHT: Controversy, panic in Northern Uganda as govt opens defunct ranches for large food production

Tractor operating in Got Apwoyo farm in Nwoya district (PHOTO /Courtesy)

Residents in Pader and Nowya districts are protesting, what they have since described as ‘widespread opening of farms’ by the government on land under disputes.

At least three sub counties of Laguti, Angagura and Ajan in Pader district with over 15 villages are being affected the latest development— leaving thousands of households squatters.

Meanwhile in Nwoya, one of the villages with more than 500 homesteads
now confused after their homes and gardens have been taken up by the farms, according to the area LC1, Robert Komakech.

Hannington Mwa, 96, former field staff of Uganda Livestock Industries during the inception of Aswa Ranch is one of the over 1,000 projected affected persons who claims his land have been curved in, in the new extended boundaries.

“We have always demanded NAGRC and Uganda Livestock Industries to come and explain to us why they decided to put mark stones on our land but nobody came. Like for me, they have put mark stones on my land and yet the boundary does not reach my land. Why?” the 96 year old cried.

The locals say they are not against the development the government is bringing to the area however they are disgusted by the illegal extension of the boundaries into their land.

The affected villages include Burlobo, Bira, Koyo, Ajan, Pilil, I in, Paibworo, Lapono, Lagotoywec, Lubala, Pabit, Pungole, Lakalangaya, Aringoyon among others. The land under contention is said to be in Aswa Ranch but the locals argue that it has encroached on the land of the communities.

 

Shea trees destroyed during opening the farm in Angagura Subcounty in Pader disstrict

Pader

The development caught the district leaders and community unaware,
Mr. Robert Okumu, the LC3 Laguti Subcounty in an interview said.

“I got a call from the locals after they saw a fleet of vehicles in the community, I had to rush there. Indeed I found a team led by NAGRC handing over 30,000 acres of land to Uganda Prison Service for farming,” Okumu stated.

Okumu maintains that the land given to Uganda Prison Services does not belong to Aswa Ranch as NAGRC claims.

“But the boundary of Aswa ranch never crosses river Ajan on the eastern side. Now I wonder how come the government begins to give out community land to agencies just like that without following proper procedures” Okumu Robert LC3 Laguti says.

Few years ago, Pader District Council earlier passed a resolution to make sure that the boundaries of Aswa be opened from the community before any activities commenced.

But Julius Nyeko, the senior land officer for Pader district said the exercise never commenced because the effort to bring on board the team from responsible ministries and agencies was not given attention.

He says they had planned to open the boundary of Aswa Ranch and the community together with the ministry by comparing documents, involving witnesses and surveyors to end the dispute of boundaries.

“We wanted the two documents that is the leasehold and land title given in 1968 and the map with the coordinates and the documents obtained in 2016 for freehold and the survey for us so that we compare the maps and it’s coordinates whether they matches and whether complain of the community are genuine, ” Nyeko states.

But, before the demarcation could happen, to iron out the dispute, work had already started and Nyeko maintained that his office and that of the Subcounty land committee were not contacted on any development taking place.

In a telephone interview, Margaret Orik Obonyo, the Regional Prison Commander for Northern Uganda confirmed receiving 30,000 acres in Pader district from NAGRC for farming beans, soybeans and maize.

An elder point to original land mark demarcating Aswa ranch and Community land

Cultural Leaders vow

Oywelo Picho, the Clan Chief of Ariya argues that much as people love the government in power, it’s clear the people President Museveni uses to implement government programs are disrespectful of the rights of the common man.

He says much as a government has the privileges to put any development programs in any community, the government must follow the rights approaches that don’t infringe on the rights of its citizens.

Oywelo argues that the NRM government whom they are dying to support is the same government which is making life hard for its citizens on their land. Amin grabbed this land forcefully and set up a Libyan ranch but when Museveni came to power, he gave back the land to the community. [in the Constitutional amendment of 1995], he recalled.

“If you [Government] want to work in harmony on this land, then you need to cooperate with the community because you cannot say this is a government program, which we are the bonafide government and again you begin to threaten and intimidate us! ”the Clan chief Ariya warned.

Judith Peace Acan, the Nwoya Woman Member of Parliament who is also in shock on how the programs entered his constituency, warns against discrimination against being shown to the vulnerable affected persons and seniors citizens owning land within the project areas.

“They ploughed the western side toward the Nile, but skipped the middle section and right now they are opening more land on the eastern side. Why is it being done selectively? Imagine, they left the land of a Bishop and two higher ranking UPDF officers in the middle untouched and yet these portions are within the project areas as we see. So, they are targeting to remove the vulnerable poor persons from their land, which I will not accept.” Acan said

NAGRC speaks out

Dr. Peter Beine, Executive Director National Animal Genetic Research Center and Data Bank (NAGRC), on Saturday 17th at the site in Got Apwoyo says they are implementing Cabinet resolutions to secure food and animal feeds for the country and their work is unstoppable.

Dr Peter Beine, ED NAGRC & DB

“This is season dependent and we cannot have any delay because the productions are for food and animal feeds which depend on the rain. So, we are having a bad time. More land is being opened and planting of seeds has already begun in some parts so that we can catch up with the season since the rain will soon be going.” Dr Beine stated.

President Museveni in a letter July 14th 2022, directed the whole government starting from the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Finance to implement the activities. This follows a letter by Minister of MAAIF, Frank Tumwebaze dated July 13th to President Museveni demanding for the deliberate intervention to boost food production in the country.

On the August 1st, Cabinet meeting at State House Entebbe chaired by President Museveni, a resolution was approved to boost food and animal feed security in the country.

The intervention is informed by the national outlooks of food security across the country as of July 2022 put Karamoja region at 41 percent as food insecure, Teso 21.4 percent food insecure, Acholi/Lango/Wetsnile 19.4 percent food insecure, Buganda 17.7 percent food insecure, Rwenzori 6.3 percent food insecure and Bunyoro/Ankole/Kigezi 4.2 percent.

According to the resolutions, food insecurity in the country is contributed by factors including unpredictable weather, drought, pests and disease outbreaks, the effect of Covid 19, limited supply and availability of fertilizers due to the Russia-Ukraine war and limited access to irrigation facilities.

The commodities that will be promoted with attendant acreages include maize (114,219 acreages), soya beans (59 acreages) beans (22,810 acreages) sorghum (2,72o acreages) totaling up to 224,640, the resolution revealed.

The resolutions also indicated that agencies including Uganda Prison Services will cultivate 50,000 acres, UPDF 10,000 acres, NEC 5,280 acres, Veterans 4,707 acres, NARO 10,000 acres. Others include NAGRC & DB 30,000 acres, and large scale farmers 314,000 acres. These government agencies will get grants meanwhile large scale private farmers will receive interest fee loans.

In Nwoya, Dr Biene notes that NAGRC is planting beans, maize and soya beans on 5 square miles of plantation, another 28sq mile in Pader, meanwhile Uganda Prison Services will cultivate 30,000 acres in Aswa Ranch.

Similar activities are also ongoing in Kasore farm in Kamuli district, Kaseke farm in Kayunga district, Maruzi ranch in Apac, and Ishanga ranch is western Uganda according to the Executive Director NAGRC & DB.

However Dr Beine further notes that the program has started facing hiccups from encroachers on government land.

“We have had challenges with a few people who have encroached on government land and we have sensitized them and told them to pave the way for the program to continue,” he said.

 

Engineer Ssenozi Robert who represented the Chairman Board NAGRC while speaking to the angry people of Got Apwoyo whose homestead have been swallowed by the farms, assures the Project Affected Persons that they will not stop the ongoing activities because they are operating under instructions.

 

“We have a letter that says please proceed with this program. If we are to proceed, we have to work with the community but our request to them is to allow us to continue, because this work is season dependent. We are not taking away the land; the land is remaining for the Ariya Community.” Engineer Ssenozi emphasized.

 

In Pader district, several homesteads and people’s gardens have however been left bare in the farm land after machinery has cleared their surroundings. Several grass thatched huts were also seen left in the open in the middle of the farmland rendering it vulnerable to wind. Besides that, countless stems of endangered Shea trees in Angagura have been felled during bush clearing and ploughing.

 

Nonetheless, Dr Beine maintains that their operation has clear instructions including environmental consciousness and also prohibits them from destroying people’s gardens and houses. He said, they will only open land for farming, and they will not bring down houses and properties of whoever they found on the land but those opting to vacate their home, will do it at will.

Meanwhile in Pader, Santa Okot MP Pader Aruu South is collecting signatures and evidence to table the prolonged boundary dispute between Aswa Ranch and Community before Parliament.

She says what NAGRC and other agencies are doing in her constituency are not procedurally correct. She has since given up to two weeks ultimatum to MAAIF to respond to the complaints of land grabbing.

Santa vows to take the government to court if they fail to attend to the grievances of the people affected by the projects.

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