By John Odyek
The agriculture ministry is setting up a tractor assembling plant to support the country’s increasing demand for scarce, expensive tractors and boost the strategy of the mechanisation of agriculture.
Officials from the ministry told Parliament’s public accounts committee yesterday that the plant is expected to be ready within the next two years through a public-private partnership arrangement and it is being set up at the National Agriculture Mechanisation Referral Centre (Namalere) in Wakiso district. Namalere has partnered with CNH New Holland represented by Coopers Motors Uganda to set up the project. It will support modernising of agriculture and create affordable tractors that are expensive for local farmers.
“We have been importing tractors, but the tractors become idle when there are no spares. We want to cut the cost of importing spares [parts] using the assembling plant,” Boniface Okanya, the commissioner for engineering and mechanisation services in the agriculture ministry said.
However, the news of the tractor assembling plant received mixed reactions from members of the committee.
Okanya, together with senior officials from the ministry made the revelations while appearing before the committee to answer queries from the Auditor General’s (AG) report for the financial year ended June 30, 2021.
Okanya said they have developed a plan for the procurement of tractors for smallholder farmers and large-scale farmers, some from Holland and others from Thailand. He added that the smallholder farmers will be getting walk behind tractors and that the 150 two-wheel tractors have been imported and another 600 more are planned to be imported.
Okanya added that 285 four-wheel tractors have been imported are being used by large-scale farmers after signing agreements with Namalere to access the tractors.
According to Okanya, a private firm from Thailand is building two-wheel tractors and assembling small machines at the Namanve Industrial Park, Kampala.
Eddie Kwizera (Bukimbiri) proposed that Kiira Motors should be engaged to see if they could support the tractor assembling project.
Asuman Basalirwa (Bugiri Municipality), who chaired the committee, said they will undertake field visits to see where the imported tractors are being used.
The Auditor General raised concerns about the increase in prices during the procurement of the tractors. He recommended that following the procurement law when the best bidder increases prices, but the market prices have not changed, the procurement should be re-tendered.
He said that the accounting officer should always ensure that the contract price should not be higher than the market price before giving out a tender.
The ministry said the increase in the tractor prices was due to the fact that the estimated cost captured did not reflect the increase in the required tractor implements.
The committee criticised the ministry for its ineffective handling of the perennial foot and mouth disease that affects cattle in Uganda.
Sarah Opendi (Tororo) asked the Government to fund vaccine research for the disease in Uganda. She said Kenya and Botswana manufacture the vaccine which Uganda can borrow a leaf from.
According to AG, the continued presence of the disease and the inadequate response in terms of vaccine availability has denied Ugandans opportunities to export livestock and livestock products to the international market. This challenge affects the ministry’s ability to achieve its mandate of seeing that agriculture through the livestock industry contributes to sustainable development.
“There must be proper plans to address foot and mouth disease. We have many farmers affected when their cattle get sick,” Basalirwa said.
He asked the ministry to present the irrigation policy, which they have developed to support agriculture amidst the climate change problem.
Ronald Ssegawa, the undersecretary at the agriculture ministry, said they had experienced delays to get vaccines for the foot and mouth disease resulting from COVID-19 on the international supply chains and manufacturing of the vaccines. He said NARO is in the process of manufacturing vaccines both for foot and mouth disease and ticks at the Nakyesasa Incubation Centre in Wakiso district.