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Agribusiness on rise in north Uganda region where rebels fought



GULU, Uganda – For nearly two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army stalked the grasslands of north Uganda, abducting children as soldiers and sex slaves in its war against the government. Now at peace, the land is being put to a new use: large-scale agriculture.

Uganda is Africa’s largest coffee exporter and its strong economic growth has been boosted by manufacturing, telecoms, retail and banking. The government wants agribusiness to be the next big sector.

Investors have poured tens of millions of dollars into a landscape now dotted with tracts of maize, rice, sunflower, sesame and commercial forests.

“Northern Uganda has the potential to become the bread basket for not only Uganda but even for East Africa,” Martin Maugustini, country manager for Afgri Uganda (AU), a unit of South African agribusiness giant Afgri Limited, told Reuters.

Developing the north is not easy. The region borders war-torn South Sudan and its crops must be trucked long distances over rough roads. Farming is dependent on rainfall as the River Nile is not developed for irrigation.

Even so, the legacy of the conflict that pitted the government against warlord Joseph Kony gives the plan to expand large-scale agriculture an unusual advantage.

During the war, the military herded the population into camps to separate them from rebels. The displacement caused hardship but when the war ended 10 years ago, leaving President Yoweri Museveni in full control of a country he has ruled since 1986, many people chose to stay in the camps, which had become sprawling urban centres.

The result is large tracts of virgin, fertile land that may give the country of 45 million an advantage over Kenya and Ethiopia, which lead the region in mechanised agriculture.

Afgri Uganda has invested $10 million since 2013, first leasing a 6,400-tonne warehouse in the regional capital Gulu for buying, processing and bagging maize, and is completing a warehouse and silo that towers over the plains of Nwoya district and can process 15 tonnes per hour.

Another company, Amatheon, started cultivating maize, sorghum and sunflower in Nwoya in 2013, and has spent $15 million and planted 1,700 hectares so far, said Chief Executive Carl Heinrich Bruhn.

Bruhn says his company aims to plant another 3,000 hectares this year, spend $100 million beyond that and contract 5,000 smallholder farmers to supply it with produce.


But resentment is on the rise against the investors many locals see as outsiders grabbing land that is rightfully theirs.

In June, legislator Odonga Otto told an election rally that people should have lots of children to help reoccupy the land.

“I call upon each family in this region to have at least eight to nine children so that in eight or nine years time they can be able to effectively occupy the remaining land,” he said, according to local media reports.

Rows over who actually owns the land has hampered some plans. A $100-million, 40,000-acre sugar plantation and processing plant by the Madhvani Group, one of Uganda’s most established agribusinesses, stalled due to a land ownership dispute.

The government has for years tried to convince locals to exchange their land for a project stake. Locals say investors should hold direct talks with landowners and farmers to lease or sell land or create business partnerships.

Amatheon Agri Uganda Ltd (AAUL), a unit of Berlin-based Amatheon Agri Group, attracted by the region’s “rich and virgin agricultural land,” negotiated leases directly with owners directly rather than going through the government, as Madhvani had done.

But that process can be tricky, especially as much of the land lacks clear titles of ownership.

Anthony Akol refused an offer for his 509 acre plot, saying the bid the investor made was low because he lacked land title. Since then he uses just 40 acres for rice farming, the maximum his own finances could afford.

Investors have not been deterred, however.

Gulu Agricultural Development Company Ltd (GADCL), owned by South African entrepreneur Bruce Robertson, leased a rusting 1960s warehouse in Gulu, spruced it up and started buying organic cotton for process and export.

The company started business in the region in 2009 backed by the New York-based Acumen fund, a non-profit organisation, and has since expanded to buy sesame, chilli and sunflower from 35,000 contract farmers.

It has also planted more than 1,000 acres of eucalyptus, pine and teak and plans to build a plant to produce cooking oil from sesame and sunflowers rather than selling the seeds raw.


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Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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