BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU
ARUA: SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 2020
At a roadside market in Igamara village, Aripea parish in Terego, about a dozen people congregate to do business in the scorching sun without cover. All of them selling one commodity – mangoes.
Among the traders is Wilfred Yuma, their sole supplier of grafted mangoes who also sells the excess mango from his field alongside the rest of the traders who are his neighbours in the village.
They compete for the small trickle of traveler clients who crisscross the Arua-Terego-Yumbe road.
However with the coronavirus restrictions on both public and private transport, the few people on the wheels are overwhelmed by the amount of mangoes that the traders end up eating or throwing away what they are unable to sell.
“We don’t know where to take the mangoes. Everywhere there are no buyers,” complains Yuma.
By 3:00 pm on Friday he had only sold mangoes for sh15,000 including what he sold to the villagers who put them for sale at the roadside market.
The big-sized grafted mangoes are sold at sh500 each but to his villagers Yuma gives extra mangoes so that they don’t trade at a loss.
The local variety are harvested free of charge and sold at sh1,000 a basin.
At his main field of 350 grafted mangoes, Yuma watches helplessly as ripe fruits spared by bats and fruit flies keep falling down and rotting away.
Even his three pigs have become so selective that they pick what is best to their taste and ignore the rest.
Some trees bear more than 1,000 fruits by his own estimates and Yuma thought he was going to reap sh15m from mango fruits this year. He has lowered those expectations to sh2m.
“I always have hard time talking to my wives and children about this. I tell them to take heart that this disease (COVID-19) will go away and that one day we will have a mango factory in the region,” intimated Yuma, the husband of three wives and father of 11 children.
As he reflects on his shattered dreams, Yuma says his predicament as well as those of mango farmers in the region would have been minimized had the idle fruit factories littering West Nile region functioned.
Just about 10km along the road to Yumbe is a dump of idle machinery at Omugo trading centre that was supplied by the Uganda Cooperative Alliance.
Some 20km towards Arua town, a factory in which the government injected sh1.2b to co-fund its construction is dysfunctional at the home of Emmanuel Ajedra.
The factory was envisioned to process 50 tons of mangos per week that was to be supplied by its support base of fruit farmers in the region.
While an approximately sh10b factory with a projected weekly capacity to process 48 tons of fruits is being built at Lodonga in Yumbe district following a partnership between the government represented by the Uganda development corporation and food and nutrition solutions ltd (FONUS).
This followed an experiment with mobile mango processing plant by Makerere University scientists to process mango juice in Yumbe which was dashed after Uganda National Bureau of Standards tests discovered fermented bacteria in the juice produced from the mobile factory.
The government has so far injected sh8.7b to support the construction while FONUS invested $300,000 (about sh1.2b)
Another processing plant procured by the Uganda cooperative alliance is redundant at Angal in Nebbi district and an incomplete fruit dryer that was supported by the SNV is limping at Panyimur in Pakwach district.
The only operational factory to talk of is a small preservation facility in Rodo village, Kei sub county in Yumbe that is run by the Mikiga mango preservers.
Factories aside, mango farmers lament that buyers from downtown Kampala never showed up as mangoes began ripening one month into the dramatic lock-down.
“The Riham Group of companies used to buy a sack of local mangoes from me at sh75,000. This year they bought nil,” Susan Andrua, a resident of Arua town says.
She added that she used to give surplus mangoes for school children but this time she had to dread ripe mangoes as outright rubbish.
While commenting on the awkward situation of mango farmers James Baba, the veteran politician and diplomat who has spearhead the planting of 12,000 mangoes in Koboko district sympathized with the farmers.
However his view is that fruit flies are a bigger menace to mango production in the region than lack of factories.
“It is true that factories would help us with bigger market for mangoes but it is the fruit flies that cause our mangoes to rot more quickly. We need to find a solution to this problem,” he reiterated.
The Yumbe district chairman Taban Yasin said a ray of hope was on the horizon for mango farmers as the Lodonga factory edges towards the finish line.
“We expect jobs both directly and indirectly to farmers and market for the mango fruits,” he asserted.
That hope for Yuma and other fruit farmers will come to fulfilment when the main harvest season of this year has long ended and expectations to earn lots of money from a bumper harvest dashed.
But the Terego farmer remained rational and composed as he spared a piece of advice to prospective mango farmers.
“If you are considering venturing into planting mangoes. Aim for the future because if factories are established in West Nile, these mangoes will not be enough,” he said.