Prioritise cooperatives for power connection- Min. Ssempijja

The Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), Hon. Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja has urged the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to prioritize the connection of cooperative-owned businesses to the power grid.

Bamulangaki made the appeal during his visit to Aratarach Cassava Cooperative Society in Nebbi district.

“The cooperative is doing commendable work by employing over 40% youths, but it is still producing at low capacity due to lack of access to electricity and water. This issue needs to be addressed at the national level,” he said.

The minister revealed that the Aratarach Cassava Cooperative Society is one of five cassava cooperative societies in the Nebbi district being implemented under the Agricultural Cluster Development Program (ACDP) championed by MAAIF.

Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), with funding from the World Bank, funded the construction of five mini cassava factories in Nebbi district. However, the factories have since faced ongoing power and water connection challenges due to their remote locations.

A case in point is Aratarach cassava cooperative society, a rural-based cooperative society operating in the remote sub-county of Kucwiny in Nebbi district, 8 kilometers from the nearest electricity power supply line.

According to Gerald Ongwech, the Chairperson, Aratarach Cassava Cooperative, the co-op was formed by former Functional Adult Literacy members (FAL) in the year 2001.

“It started with 31 fully registered group members but became a cooperative in 2013 with over 700 members, each of whom paid Shs 10,000 in membership fees.

Lost opportunities

Ongwech says the lack of access to the national grid is affecting the cooperative’s ability to add value to the cassava flour, which he says has a ready market.

“Much as we have a ready market for our cassava flour, the cooperative’s production capacity is limited due to the high cost of running it on generator power,” Ongwech said.

Already, the co-op has lost some potential clients due to its power challenges.

“We were approached by t Uganda Breweries Limited to supply them with 200 metric tonnes of cassava four per week, but had to shun the offer due to our current incapacity to meet the demand,” intimated Ongeyowun Innocent, the society’s Production Manager.

As a result, the co-op has, for now, limited itself to producing for the local market.

“We urge the government to connect the cooperative with electricity and water to run the cassava factory which is a source of employment to youths and widows,” Ongeyowun said.

One such member, Paska Unwangbanga, was all praises for the cooperative which, she says, has enabled her to meet her family’s daily needs, and pay her children’s school fees.

“The cooperative provides members with loans at affordable interest rates. It also employs some of the members and ensures our cassava is bought right from the plantation site,” she said.

Joyce Piwa, the focal person for ACDP Nebbi district, confirmed that most cooperatives in the district are hamstrung in their operations by lack of water and electricity.

“Government should consider promoting cooperative activities as one of the tools to eradicate poverty at the community level for socio-economic transformation,” she said.

Connection imminent

During his visit to the cooperative’s factory, Minister Bamulangaki promised that government would soon resolve the area’s power issues as the Karuma dam nears completion.

“The power scarcity in West Nile is temporary; very soon the region will be connected with power from Karuma dam, with a substation being constructed at Olwiyo in Nwoya district,” Bamulangaki said.

He urged the cooperative management to negotiate with the ministry of trade for marketability such that the cooperative products be known to the global market.

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