OIL PALM GROWING BOOSTING PEOPLE’S HOUSEHOLD INCOMES AND ECO-TOURISM IN KALANGALA

By Moses Sserwanga

In Kalangala

In a country where the locals are not very keen  at venturing out  of their

traditional  surroundings,  Kalangala district one of the islands on lake  Victoria is fast becoming a local tourists  destination. 

Because of its  quiet and breathtaking scenery  surrounded by the waters of Lake Victoria ,for  many of  Kampala’s affluent  and globetrotters -Kalangala is now one of their major weekend and holiday resting places.

Although the tourism industry  is just picking up on the Island – after a one year lull- due to the devasting -global-novel -covid -19 pandemic, many  local and foreign tourists still  make the -three and half hours journey to the district -just to indulge themselves a little bit.

“  We are extremely privileged that we are beginning to see the real potential of Kalangala even when it’s a hard to reach area . And for some of us in administration we cannot wait to take full advantage of  the people’s interest in our local tourism to help develop the district . There   is a lot of potential for our local tourism given the global interest in our cultural sites, the beautiful oil palm  gardens  (sic) -eco tourism,  Bugoma landing sites for early missionaries , sports fishing, water  surfing and  bird watching among others ,” Umar Kiyonga  an employee of the Kalangala oil Palm Growers Trust (KOPGT) , says.

Mr. Balironda David Mukasa Salongo, the General Manager of  KOPGT, a former Agricultural Officer , says that Kalangala has come a long way since  1989 when it was  curved out of
Masaka district without any  economic feasibility to talk home about . “There was a
need to have a big  project  running here and  we are  happy to have the palm oil project which has helped inject ‘life’ in much of what the local people are doing currently .

Kalangala (Bugala) has a modest population of- an estimated 90,000 inhabitants and is the biggest out  of  the 84 Sesse Islands . The Kalangala local government is in charge of all the  84 islands- 64 of which are uninhabited  . “So ,through the   KOPGT ,we are  in position to improve our health sector, education, fisheries and above all promote echo-tourism with the beautiful scenery created by the oil palm trees- “forests” -dotted across the island”, Balironda states .

“ And with  oil palm growing, for the last 15 years , people are  earning  real incomes and in the month of April alone ,an estimated 1,300 oil palm farmers will earn an estimated UGSHS.4bn  from their farms and we expect the district’s  tax base to widen and that can only serve the public good,” a jovial Balironda told media personalities who visited the district to report about the positive economic and eco-tourism transformation caused by oil palm growing .

Because of the increased household incomes and general standards of living commercial banks have set -up banking services for the first time on the island and the farmers are encouraged to save and invest in other economic activities -thus widening the economic base of the district.

“You can see all-round people are building better houses, opening up hardware shops , saloons but above all sending children to schools which has led to a marked improvement in literacy levels,” Balironda explains .

Ms.Connie Magomu Masaba, the Project Manager of the National Oil Palm Project (NOPP) said that growing of oil palm in Kalanga has  transformed households from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture.  The project has  also created thousands of jobs directly with many people working in the   plantations  owned by the  Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL) plus the outgrowers.

The National Oil Palm Project is a Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) initiative with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and because of  its success in Kalangala it  is now being extended to  Buvuma  Island .

The Buvuma Island project will be established on 7,500 hectares with 5,000 dedicated to the nucleus estate while the rest of the land (2,500) will be for smallholder farmers. The nucleus estate will be managed by Buvuma Oil Palm Limited (BOPL), a joint venture between the private sector, government and farmers, according to Masaba.  The Buvuma Oil Palm Growers Cooperatives Society Limited has been formed to cater for the interests of farmers

And the economics of oil palm growing

Currently, a kilo of fresh fruit bunches of oil palm is sold at Shs869 from Shs857 in April. In Kalangala, where the project was first implemented, smallholder farmers supply on average 6.9 million kilos of fresh fruit bunches earning a gross income of Shs6 billion every month. Smallholder farmers also earn from oil palm leaves once pruned, which they sell as brooms used in urban areas such as Kampala. It is estimated that an ordinary farmer can earn as much as Shs.800,000 from an acre of oil palm trees.

Commercial oil palm growing in Uganda started in Kalangala in 2006 and harvesting started in 2010 with crude palm oil shipped to Jinja where Bidco owns a refinery that makes cooking oil and soap among other products.

Oil palm trees reach maturity at four years and are harvested every 10 days for 25 years after which farmers will have to replant. This gives farmers a sustainable monthly income for years.   Oil palm is the world’s most versatile vegetable oil which is used to make soap, cooking oil, medicines, cosmetics, and ingredients used in the automotive industry among others. 

And the challenges

But much as  Kalangala has found its feet, there are  numerous  challenges it has to over-come. The district HIV/Aids prevalence rates are  still very high  averaging  at between  27-30 %  compared to national average of  6-9%.  Kalangala does not have a district hospital; therefore, patients often have to travel by water to the nearby district hospitals in Entebbe and Masaka for treatment.

Further, patients cannot travel by night because ferries and boats are not allowed to operate at night and the last time Ugandaupdatenews.com visited the oil palm farmers in Kalangala, the docking peirs at Bugoma and Bukakata had been submerged following the rising water levels of Lake Victoria and no action had been taken by  the Kalangala infrastructure Services Ltd who operate the two public vessels that transport people to and from the island.

msserwanga@gmail.com

MOSES SSERWANGA

Writer is a media and communications consultant And Advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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