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Why Atiak Sugar Project is not firing on all cylinders.



Photo Credit: Daily Monitor.

Ms Amina Hershi, the chief executive officer of Horyal Investment Ltd, displays some of  the bags of sugar produced at Atyak Sugar Factory in Amuru District recently.

Atiak Sugar Limited is battling an acute shortage of sugarcane to supply the multi-billion sugar factory located in Atiak Sub-county, Amuru District. The vast bulk of its sugarcane plantations in both Amuru and Lamwo districts were ravaged by suspected arson attacks from alleged aggrieved members of two separate outgrowers societies.

The Atiak Sugar Project is still being spoken of in the present tense. It is essentially a public-private-community partnership between the National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads), participating farmer cooperatives and respective local governments of Amuru, Lamwo and Horyal Investment Holdings Ltd.

The first bags of sugar from Horyal Investment Ltd’s multi-billion investment in the post-conflict north hit the streets of Gulu City once President Museveni commissioned the factory on October 22, 2020. The factory was initially meant to provide a ready market for the sugarcane outgrowers in the region where sugar production has already begun.

Under the partnership, the community under Atiak Outgrowers and Gem-pachilo Cooperative Societies are to plant cane on the land and weed the plantations. Once the cane is ready, the plantation—apportioned to the outgrowers by Naads—would be harvested and sold to the factory.

At its inception, the project targeted to cover 13,841 acres at the main plantation at Atiak in Amuru District. An expansion of 15,000 acres was, however, later made in Ayu-alali, Palabek Kal Sub-county, Lamwo District, in 2020. A further expansion of 31,159 acres is planned and is being established in Palabek-ogili, Lamwo District, bringing the total acreage to 60,000.

In September 2020, before its commissioning, Ms Amina Hershi, the chief executive officer of Horyal Investment Ltd, told a delegation of government officials that 3,000 acres of sugarcane were ready for supply to the factory to begin its maiden production. This section of the plantation belonged to Gem Pachilo and Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Societies, she revealed, adding, “…we also now produce 6 MWh of electricity to the national grid, which is generated through biogas from the bi-products of the cane.”

At this point, the plant was, according to Ms Hershi, only waiting for calibration by the International Organisation for Standardisation to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.

Two years later, however, Saturday Monitor has learnt that simultaneous incidents of fire outbreaks that ravaged hundreds of hectares of the plantation appear to cast a dark shadow on the potential of the factory.

Outgrowers and the factory’s management accounts have indicated that since 2017, wildfires have gutted hundreds of hectares of the sugar plantation in the dry season. The burnt portions were usually canes that were nearing harvest or ready for harvest. We also understand that the portions burnt by the fire were always those owned by the outgrowers. These were not insured against fire, damages, or any other risks.

Late last month, the proprietors of the factory said sugar production had been suspended after cane supply to the factory hit rock bottom. According to the company, the suspension comes in the aftermath of wildfires that have in previous months destroyed the sugarcane plantation.

Mr Mahmood Abdi Ahmed, the company’s director for plantation and agriculture, told Saturday Monitor that production had drastically slowed down. He, however, hastened to add that operations haven’t been suspended as a result of the acute shortage of canes.

“The biggest challenge we have had is the gaps in our structural planning relating to the sugarcane production, and this failure is blamed on all of us the stakeholders,” Mr Mahmood said in an interview, adding, “The land (customary) ownership setup in the Acholi area has served a really big disadvantage to sugarcane growing because you don’t see people growing sugarcane on subsistence basis as we see in other regions producing sugar.”

According to him, in areas such as Busoga and Bunyoro sub-regions, “you find people growing sugarcane everywhere because the land is not communally owned and individuals decide on their own whether to grow sugarcane. But the communal ownership disfavours this, and this is one challenge we did not foresee.”

He also said the lack of associated amenities such as roads and urban trading centres where interested labour (workers) can reside has exacerbated things.

“The road infrastructure in communities here is still poor to boost sugarcane production,” he said, adding, “Even if communities grew these canes, the road networks are still underdeveloped to ease transportation of the canes.”

 The company also lacks the infrastructure and human resources to deploy in sugarcane production. For example, Atiak Town Council or Elegu Town Council— the nearest trading centre—is 25km away from the factory, making transportation of the labour force over the distance a huge daily burden.

A fortnight ago, Ms Hersi told the media that the factory was temporarily suspending operations. According to her, the factory’s biggest problem was the lack of canes to supply the plant to produce sugar. She was, however, quick to add that the plantation would resume production once canes in Ayu-alali plantation in Palabek-kal Sub-county, Lamwo District, mature between July and August.

Sabotage galore

Ms Joyce Laker, the chairperson of Atiak Outgrowers Cooperative Society, however recently revealed that they were disappointed that Naads refused to pay their members.

During a public gathering at the factory, Ms Laker described the wildfires that swept across the plantations as deliberate sabotage. She also called for the government’s intervention after revealing that discontented cooperative members have openly threatened to continue burning down the sugar plantation until their grievances are settled.

“I will say it without shame…,” she stated. “…there are issues which the government has to come in and settle because at one point, in a meeting, some people said if these issues are not resolved, the sugarcane will continue getting burnt down.”

The longstanding dispute between the sugarcane outgrowers and the management of the sugar factory did not only delay the commencement of sugar production. Saturday Monitor also understands that the dispute has reportedly caused persistent and deliberate burning of the canes.

Ms Laker said the finger of blame can also be pointed elsewhere.

She referred specifically to the 2017 incident when Naads cut down more than 160 acres of sugarcane plantations belonging to Atiak Outgrowers and Gem-pachilo cooperative societies.

Saturday Monitor has established that the outgrowers are yet to be paid. We have also established that there are several instances of tension between the outgrowers, Horyal Investment Ltd and Naads over royalties and accumulated payments for canes cut and served to the factory.

Before President Museveni launched the factory in October 2020, the farm could not initialise sugar production for nearly eight months. This was due to the failure of the government to compensate two cooperatives for the sugarcane supplied to the factory.

Ms Grace Kwiyocwiny, the State Minister for Northern Uganda, told Saturday Monitor that roundtable talks between the leadership of the factory and the cooperative members are in the offing.

“We should protect all the little developments that are coming up in our region because all developments are supported by communities,” she said, adding, “I want to … come and meet with the leaders of the community because of the sugar [cane] that is continuously burning down.”

Earlier in March, when this newspaper visited the facility, the factory remained closed to production due to supply chain issues (shortage of cane). A perfect storm—including the pandemic, suspected arson attacks and insufficient production of canes by plantations in both Amuru and Lamwo districts—has contrived to create supply chain problems.

No respite from the east

In January 2021, Horyal Investment Ltd started sourcing its cane from the Busoga Sub-region. Sugarcane farmers in Busoga Sub-region, under the Greater Busoga Sugarcane Farmers’ Union (GBSGU), last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Atiak Sugar Factory to supply cane for six months. Under the arrangement, the government shall intervene by subsidising the transport costs and also avail fueled trucks to ferry the cane.

Inside sources have, however, told Saturday Monitor that the arrangement looks to have fallen flat on its face. The cost the investor incurred in transporting a truckload of canes is six times higher than what it paid for canes alone. A source who did not want to be named said while a truckload of canes fetched approximately Shs200,000, it costs between Shs800,000 to Shs1m to transport the consignment.

“They failed to sustain that arrangement because it was very expensive and the company realised it was sinking in losses to that effect; although the costs were being shared between the investor and Naads,” our source revealed.

Mr Michael Lakony, the Amuru District chairperson, fears that the suspension of the sugar production will destroy livelihoods in the sub-region.

“Hundreds of workers, including young men and women from the district here have been rendered jobless,” he told us in an interview, adding, “If the company wants to gain from the factory, it should get serious other than politicking.”

Mr Lakony added that because the government was allegedly not serious about streamlining the impasse and ensuring that Horyal Investments Ltd respects its terms in dealing with the outgrowers, the investor could continue grappling with suspicious fires.

“The plantations keep getting burnt because it is owned by no one and that means nobody cares, and if nobody cares, no one takes interest in taking care of it, including the neighbours because benefits in terms of payments to the out-growers are not being met,” he said.

Mechanisation drive

To address the challenge of labour deficiency and lack of funds to establish low-cost housing facilities in the factory to accommodate workers, Mr Mahmood said they are moving towards mechanising production.

“We don’t have the financing to build accommodation facilities to house thousands of workers who we would need to work on the plantation daily,” he told Saturday Monitor, adding, “Instead, we are strategising to focus on mechanising our production using the limited resources at our disposal now.”

He further revealed that they have procured a new fleet of sugarcane planters, weeders and harvesters due to arrive at the back-end of this year.

“The machines, we believe, are more efficient and can do much more work compared to human labour and that will solve the puzzle,” he noted.

Although Mr Mahmood did not disclose the source of the funding, in a separate interview, Mr Lakony—the Amuru LC5 chairperson—said the company had been granted a Shs108 billion bailout by the government for mechanising production.

“We had a meeting with the management as a district and also shareholders and the latest update is that the government has allocated Shs108 billion to the company through UDC [Uganda Development Corporation],” Mr Lakony said, adding, “The plan is to leave rudimental and turn to mechanised production. Instead of using human labour, they want to use machines.”

A fraction of the same funds will also be used to establish an irrigation system on River Unyama that cuts through the sugar plantation to help in irrigating the canes during the dry season when immature and young canes dry and die out, Mr Lakony added.

Saturday Monitor understands the Shs108 billion is the same funding thrown out by Parliament’s Budget Committee last November. This was after the investor made a supplementary budget request to finance production. The request tabled by junior Trade minister David Bahati, and backed by the UDC’s top brass, failed to convince the lawmakers, who in turn sent them away.

The MPs declined to endorse Ms Hersi’s request to the government, reasoning that there was a need for proof that her investment was making a substantial contribution to the economy. The MPs instead demanded a forensic audit into how she has spent more than Shs120 billion received from the government. Similar financial requests were made by the Atiak Sugar leadership to the 10th Parliament, but most of them were rejected, although it later emerged that they were, nevertheless, granted.

Some of the fire incidents at Atiak Sugar project

In 2016, a fire caused an estimated loss of Shs150m after it gutted 150 acres of sugarcane plantation at the factory.

In December 2018, another mysterious fire destroyed an estimated 250 acres of sugarcane at the facility.

An estimated 600 acres of sugarcane at the plantation was then burnt down in February 2019.

And in January 2021, a fire that lasted for nearly a week destroyed nearly 60 percent of the plantation after the police fire brigade fought it with little success.

Eventually, more than 600 acres of sugarcane estimated at Shs3 billion were reported to have been destroyed in the fire.

In fact, that fire in January of 2021 was the worst to ever hit the plantation. The police attributed the rapid spread of the fire to narrow fire lines that do not allow fire trucks to move in fast.

Enter January of 2022, a similar fire burnt down an estimated 3,500 acres of the sugarcane plantation.

According to Mr David Ongom Mudong, the Aswa River Region police spokesperson, the fire razed down 14 huts belonging to a Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) detachment. The soldiers, who were supposed to stand as sentinels at the plantation, watched helplessly as 250 acres were burnt down.


About the factory

Atiak Sugar Factory, located at Gem Village in Pachilo Parish in Atiak Sub-county in Amuru District, is jointly owned by the Uganda and Horyal Investment Holdings Company Ltd. The latter belongs to Ms Hersi.

The factory—located 17kms north of Atiak off the Gulu-Nimule Road—is the first major investment in the region.

Lawmakers have, however, continued to question why the government’s stakes in it have remained significantly low compared to that of Horyal Investments despite the huge capital portfolio injected in the past years into the venture.

Last September, Parliament’s Committee on Trade questioned why the government—the lowest shareholder in Atiak Sugar Limited—continues to invest the most money in the factory.

The government’s shareholding in the plant has remained static at 40 percent despite an injection of more than Shs120 billion.

In May 2018, when the government injected Shs20 billion, its shareholding stood at 10 percent. In the same year, it injected another Shs45 billion—raising its shares to 32 percent.

The committee also questioned the circumstances under which Naads contracted the company to clear, plant, and harvest sugar cane valued at Shs54 billion instead of working directly with the outgrowers.

Source: Daily Monitor

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A son of the community defender is shot dead, another critically injured in a retaliatory attack by security guards evicting locals off their land to give way to large-scale sugarcane growing.



By Witness Radio team

Kiryandongo – Uganda. Security guards attached to Magnum Limited, a private security company employed by Somdiam Limited, have shot dead a son of a community land rights defender in Kiryandongo district and critically injured his second son, currently admitted in the hospital. Somdiam Limited, is owned by an Indian investor.

Somdiam contracted Magnum Limited in October 2023 to carry out illegal evictions in the villages such as Nyamuntende, Kikungulu, and Ndoi in the Kiryandongo sub-county in Kiryandongo district without a court order.

The same security company has a record of being hired and carryout in illegal land evictions and guarding grabbed lands. It is on record that Magnum security carried out another violent land eviction involving over 2500 locals in Kapapi in Hoima district to give way to the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

Since 2020, Somdiam has been grabbing land for over 809.3700 hectares that have been lawfully occupied and cultivated by over 3000 locals. In the early 2000s, the locals applied for a freehold title, and eventually granted by the government.

According to records seen by Witness Radio, Somdiam Company was established in 2011 in Uganda and owned by two Indian nationals Mr. Dhedhi Himatbhai and Mrs. Dhedhi Hansaben Himatbhai.

One of its lawyers includes the former attorney general in the current Kampala government Mr. Mwesigwa Rukutana.

The company has branches in Rwanda, Tanzania, Madagascar, and the United Arab Emirates – Dubai primarily deals in importing various food commodities, including rice, sugar, vegetable cooking oil, biscuits, salt, tomato paste, powdered milk, pasta, and spaghetti, among others.

According to investigations by Witness Radio team, the killing happened on November 25th, 2023.

Kato Geoffrey, aged 20, one of the sons of Kaliisa Joseph, was shot in his back at 5:30 pm and passed away at the gate of Kiryandongo Hospital while being rushed for treatment. Another victim, Rugazu Steven, was shot in the thigh and is currently receiving treatment at Bweyale General Clinic.

Eyewitness accounts detail that the distressing events unfolded in Kisalanda Village, Kiryandongo district, when 10 Somdiam armed personnel, guarding Somdiam on orders of Isaac Balute, Somdiam Company manager, raided the residence of a community land rights defender, Kaliisa Joseph at Kisalanda with the intent of forcibly evicting him from his property in vain.

Joseph Kaliisa, a community land rights in the Kiryandongo district, has been actively engaged in mobilizing his community of more than 3000 residents to push back Somdiam Company’s illegal land eviction in Nyamuntende, Ndoi, and Kikungulu, all villages in the Kiryandondongo district.

In addition, when the defender refused to give up on his land, the armed guards’ personnel proceeded to loot his livestock but found strong resistance from Kaliisa’s family members who were grazing the cattle. In the scuffle, the guards opened fire and killed Kato and injured Rugazu.

“These armed company guards have repeatedly patrolled my home and livestock enclosure, aiming to loot them. They have already displaced most of our community members in Ndoi, Kikukungulu, and Nyamuntende, alleging that we have no rightful claim to this land despite us being its rightful owners. When they tried to evict me on Saturday, I stood my ground, asserting that I wouldn’t be displaced. Their response was to loot my grazing cows,” recounted the Kaliisa.

He added that the investor and its agents are revenging because of his work to resist an illegal eviction.

Somdiam company manager, Mr. Balute Isaac, confirmed that cattle keepers were grazing on the company’s land.

“It’s true that our guards were impounding their cattle because they had grazed in our plantations. Initially, this process was peaceful. However, the cattle keepers resisted and attacked our guards. In self-defense, two individuals were shot,” Mr. Balute disclosed to Witness Radio.

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The East Africa regional court dismisses a case challenging the construction of the EACOP project.



By Witness Radio team

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has dismissed a case challenging the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) filed by four East African NGOs in 2020 against Total Energies, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), and governments of both Uganda and Tanzania.

In its ruling today, the 29th of November, 2023, the EACJ relied on the preliminary objection raised by the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments regarding the timeframe within which the petition was filed at the EACJ.

The EACJ ruled that the applicants filed the petition out of time, thus saying that the petitioners should have filed the petition as early as 2017, instead of 2020.

“As a result, the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the matter”, said the judges in their unanimous decision.

On 6th November 2020, Natural Justice, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Centre for Strategic Litigation and the Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) Limited filed a petition against the governments of Uganda and Tanzania and the Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC) challenging the construction of the EACOP project.

The Applicants’ petition rested on the assertion that the EACOP project violates multiple provisions of the Treaty of the Establishment of East African Community. The project further violates the Protocol for the Sustainable Management of the Lake Victoria Basin, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources, the post–2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Climate Accords.

Furthermore, the Applicants argued that the entities backing the EACOP project, such as Total Energies, Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation, and the Governments of Uganda and Tanzania, failed to carry out thorough and meaningful public engagement and consultation processes. Additionally, they contend that they did not conduct comprehensive assessments on both human rights and climate impacts before initiating the EACOP project.

The EACOP connects the Tilenga and Kingfisher oilfields in western Uganda with the port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania. Upon completion, the project will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the entire world. The $5 billion EACOP project will cover a distance of 1,443 kilometers.

The applicants further contend that pivotal facts necessary for presenting the merits of the petition before the EACJ were disregarded in the judgment, therefore, they intend to file an appeal.

After receiving the ruling, Lucien Limacher, Head of Defending Rights and Litigation at Natural Justice, said that the Court of First Instance for the East African Court of Justice failed to provide civil society with the chance to argue their case.

He adds, “This judgment marks a continuation of how the global north and various government institutions in Africa, are blind to the destruction of the environment and the impact oil and gas have on the climate. Profits are valued above livelihoods and the environment. We will evaluate the judgment in detail and make the necessary actions to ensure we continue to protect the environment and the people who live in it”.

The Chief Executive Officer of AFIEGO, Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, expressed that it was a disappointing day for millions of East Africans who had hoped the court would consider evidence related to the environmental, social, and economic risks of the EACOP project and decide based on the case’s merits.

Mugisha adds that, despite the setback faced, the applicants remain determined and are prepared to appeal this unjust ruling, firmly believing that the dangers posed by EACOP can and will be stopped.

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East African Court of Justice is to decide whether it has jurisdiction to try the EACOP case filed by Four East African NGOs today.



By Witness Radio team

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is delivering a ruling on the preliminary objections raised by Tanzania’s solicitor general regarding the court’s jurisdiction to hear a case filed against the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project today, the 29th of November 2023.

According to the ruling notice seen by Witness Radio, the regional Court will deliver the ruling at 9:30 East Africa Standard Time.

The Court consists of Honorable Mr. Justice Yohane Bokobora Masara Principal Judge, Honorable Justice Dr. Charles Nyawello Deputy Principal Judge, Honorable Mr. Justice Richard Muhumuza, Honorable Mr. Justice Richard Wejuli, and Honorable Justice Dr. Gacuko Leonard.

On 6th November 2020, four East African Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) including; Natural Justice, Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), the Centre for Strategic Litigation, and the Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) Limited filed a petition against the governments of Uganda and Tanzania and the Secretary General of the East African Community (EAC) challenging the construction of the EACOP project.

The basis of the Applicants’ petition rests on the assertion that the EACOP project violates multiple provisions of the Treaty of the Establishment of East African Community. The project further violates the Protocol for the Sustainable Management of the Lake Victoria Basin, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources, the post–2020 Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Paris Climate Accords.

Furthermore, the Applicants argue that the entities backing the EACOP project, such as Total Energies, China’s National Offshore Oil Corporation, and the Governments of Uganda and Tanzania, failed to carry out thorough and meaningful public engagement and consultation processes and additionally did not conduct comprehensive assessments of both the human rights and climate impacts before initiating the EACOP project.

After numerous hearings of the case at the EACJ, in March 2022, Mr. Gabriel Malata, the Solicitor General of the United Republic of Tanzania, raised several preliminary objections, which include his argument that the EACJ has no jurisdiction to hear both the main case and the application for temporary injunction filed by the NGOs.

In its upcoming ruling, the EACJ will delve into three pivotal preliminary issues concerning the involved parties in the case. These issues include determining whether the case pertains to interpreting the EAC Treaty, whether the case was filed within the stipulated timeframe, and whether the organizations’ pleadings were appropriately verified in adherence to the EACJ Rules of Procedure, among other aspects.

The East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) connects the Tilenga and Kingfisher oilfields in western Uganda with the port of Tanga in eastern Tanzania will be the longest heated crude oil pipeline in the world and crosses through 10 districts in Uganda and 25 districts in Tanzania.

Uganda’s President, Mr. Yoweri Museveni Tibuhaburwa, has often celebrated the oil projects calling a success. He firmly believes that the oil discovery represents a significant catalyst for economic development and will bring benefits to the local communities, but the current reality is a reverse to his statements.

Instead, the EACOP project has triggered significant concerns among communities and civil society groups due to its detrimental impacts on thousands of individuals in Uganda and Tanzania. The most affected have been the Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and human rights activists who stand against the project. Reports have highlighted cases of land grabbing, the displacement of host communities, inadequate compensation, and the troubling trend of harassing and arresting community leaders and rights activists.

On the 14th of September 2022, the European Union Parliament passed an advisory resolution to suspend the oil pipeline for a year citing disastrous human and environmental rights violations associated with the project.

The resolutions put forth by the European Parliament legislators echo the distressing issues raised by affected communities regarding the oil pipeline project.

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