Land mishaps stall palm tree project

Poor land documentation and resistance from landowners are stalling regional vegetable oil and soap maker Bidco’s palm tree growing project on the Buvuma Islands in Lake Victoria.

Sources familiar with the situation told The EastAfrican that the palm oil project is yet to take off three years after it was launched, because the government is yet to secure enough land.

“Government’s efforts to acquire the land on the island have been hindered by the lack of proper land documentation, multiple land ownership and resistance by some landowners,” sources said.

According to the sources, the government has already secured close to 5,000 hectares of 6,500 hectares of land it needs for a nucleus estate but it also needs an additional 3,500 hectares for an outgrower scheme before the project can kick off.

The nucleus estate would be under Oil Palm Uganda Ltd.

“Multiple interests plus the fact that we want to ensure that everybody whose land has been acquired lives a better life thereafter, are among the challenges that are delaying the project,” said Connie Masaba, vegetable oil development project manager at Uganda’s Agriculture Ministry.

Ms Masaba said the government had already spent close to Ush250 million ($75,950) on opening up boundary roads on the acquired land and Ush15 billion ($4,556,780) on buying land and compensating the owners.

A spot check by The EastAfrican revealed that although the government has opened up boundary roads on the island, vegetation is reclaiming the cleared roads and the land set aside for growing the palm trees is not marked for easy identification, a scenario that could spark conflict between the government and landowners in future.

Bidco was to start planting palm oil trees from July 2012, when the implementation date was re-scheduled to April last year, and later to an indefinite date due to the lack of sufficient land.

Land ownership

Land ownership on Buvuma Island has been a thorny issue ever since the government showed interest in growing palm oil trees in the area.

In June 2012, residents of Buvuma Island led by their district woman MP Nantume Egunyu protested the government’s move to give Bidco land on the island, insisting that residents have to be compensated to allow the project to kick off.

Besides the nucleus estate and the outgrower scheme, Uganda together with Bidco also plan to establish a processing plant on the island as part of a $147 million programme.

Bidco began processing palm oil from its plantation in the Ssese Islands in the northwestern part of Lake Victoria in Uganda in 2009 under a $100 million World Bank financed vegetable oil development project.

The project was supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Bank, with Bidco Uganda Ltd and Wilmar Plantations playing a major role as the private investors.

Environmentalists, however, are against Bidco’s expansion into Buvuma and further north into Lake Victoria, citing a rise in environmental degradation and land grabbing.