By Tom Gwebayanga
The sh800b sericulture (silkworm farming) project, which the Government flagged off in 2018 to produce raw silk, create jobs and improve livelihoods, has stalled.
The finance ministry is yet to release more funds to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, which is implementing the project. Consequently, the project is on the brink of collapse, with sericulture farming sites in bad shape countrywide.
Besides improving the lives of community members, the project was aimed at improving the nation’s economy in terms of foreign exchange by producing raw silk.
The sector’s plight was brought to light during the May tour by the parliamentary committee on science, technology and innovation carried out countrywide.
The objective was for the lawmakers to establish why the project had stalled.
Headed by Nabilatuk MP Remigio Achia, the lawmakers learnt that due to a five-year financing vacuum, the science ministry had failed to sustain the 56 pilot sites.
In Kamuli district, the biggest part of a 14-acre mulberry trees farm at Butansi sub-county headquarters is covered in thick bushes.
“Because the workers have never got wages since 2019, the bushes have taken over the mulberry trees,” Emmanuel Nsongola, the Butansi LC3 chairperson, said.
Similar scenarios were witnessed at the Nawandala site in Iganga district and the Namasumbi and Bbaale projects in Mukono and Kayunga districts respectively. Led by Nsongola, the Butansi sub-county leadership complained that the science ministry had breached a memorandum of understanding (MOU) they made with the local council.
“The MOU stipulates payment of ground rent, profit dividends and construction of a factory,” he said.
Nsongola added that the council had hardly received a penny since the project’s inception.
The Butansi sub-county speaker, Azaliya Mikago, said the project had affected their local revenue base, besides criticism and complaints from the public.
“Before the project, the land used to generate revenue as it was hired by locals to grow crops such as maize, beans and potatoes at between sh50,000 and sh70,000 per acre each season,” the speaker said.
However, the locals were driven off the land in favour of the sericulture project. Mikago disclosed that the council was set to convene and pass a resolution “chasing” the project for carrying “no financial value”.
On the Nawandala farm in Iganga district, two workers died reportedly due to inability to access medical treatment.
A worker at the mulberry farm only identified as Nangobi, said the duo could have survived if they had the money to get treatment.
Like the case in Butansi, the Nawandala farm is almost deserted, covered with overgrown bushes and unpruned mulberry trees.
The lawmakers also established that the shelters where the silkworms are to be fed are substandard as opposed to earlier plans that showed better structures.
In addition, there are no signs of the construction of the proposed silk processing factory, as pledged at inception.
Secretariat working under harsh conditions
The challenge of lack of funding starts right from the sericulture secretariat, where the staff are working under hardships, Dr Clet Wandui Masiga, the project country director, said.
“The initial sh8b was used to open the 56 sites nationwide. Since then, the respective ministries (finance and agriculture) have not released any more money,” he said.
Citing influence peddling in the ministries, Dr Masiga attributed the standoff to political bigwigs he alleged are jostling to be part of the project.
Once funded, the project shall change people’s lives and accelerate development, courtesy of the proposed 56 silk factories and the creation of 300,000 jobs across the country.
Due to the missed salaries and wages, over a million people who would be directly or indirectly depending on their employed relatives, are also yawning.