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Silk Farmers Angry As Government Suspends Funding

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Sheema district leaders have threatened to take back the land allocated to a sericulture project, which is not bearing fruit.  

The district signed a memorandum of understanding with Tropical Institute of Development Innovation (TRIDI) and allocated 30 acres at Rubare cell to the establishment of the sericulture project.

The district chairperson, Jamimah Tumwijukye, expressed concern that they had high hopes after the institute establishing 20 acres of mulberry, construct a rearing house and a processing factory, but these are being dashed as the project is yet to take off owing to a lack of funding.

“The project started in 2017 and we had hopes that by now it would be fully operational and our people would be benefiting from it as many set up mulberry gardens and trained on how to rear silkworms,” she explained.

The Sheema project manager, Geoffrey Kansiime, explains that they are now having a lot of challenges to look after the mulberry gardens because workers have spent the last six months without getting paid.

“Community people had gotten jobs that would give them income to care for their families like paying school fees, medical, feeding among others that they cannot achieve now and others are even thinking of leaving the jobs,” he says.

The same situation is in other stations. On October 12, members of Parliament on the committee of science, technology and innovation led by Esther Mbayo, the acting committee chairperson, visited Kween and Bulambuli districts in the eastern region of the country.

The members showed concern and disappointment on how the installed sericulture stations across the country are not operational after funding was withheld.

Sericulture Status

Emma Walimbwa, the head partnership and capacity building with TRIDI, explains that they are implementing the Commercialisation of Sericulture Technologies and Innovations Project for household wealth creation and employment generation in Uganda in partnership with Government of Uganda.

Uganda has been exporting products of sericulture like cocoons and raw silk yarn since the sericulture project commenced in 2017. According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Uganda exported silk worth $44,000 in 2020.

“One acre of mulberry, if well managed, can be used to rear four boxes of silk worm in one cycle (about 35 days) to produce cocoon. Each box of silk worm eggs when hatched and well feed, gives up to 30kg to 40kg of raw silk cocoon,” Walimbwa says.

From one cycle, one can harvest about 120kg to 160kg of raw silk cocoon and in a year one can rear 4-9 cycles depending on the guidance and one’s experience.

“This gives a farmer an opportunity to make more income for a home and also generating revenue to the government,” he explains.

A kilogram of silk cocoon costs averagely sh18, 000. From 120kg from one cycle, one earns sh2,160,000 and if one rears six cycles will earn sh12,960,000 annually.

Silk is a highly demanded fabric much as it is pricier compared to cotton, wool and polyester fabrics. According to the Global Industry Analysis and Forest, the silk project is a multibillion-dollar industry with raw silk costing about 20 times as much as raw cotton. By 2021, the global silk market was worth $16.86b.

“Installation and training of operators was expected to take one year (From June 2022-June 2023), but everything is at a standstill since there is no money to finance the operations,” Walimbwa explains.

The project is to be implemented in 50 districts and has been operationalised in 24 districts of Sheema, Kiruhura, Bulambuli, Kamuli, Mubende, Mukono, Iganga, Luwero, Kayunga, Nakaseke, Nakasongola, Kitagata, Kween, Bukedea, Zombo, Nwoya, Buikwe, Pallisa, Busia, Amoratar, Otuke, Lira, Agago and Pader.

Benefits

Clet Wandui Masiga, the CEO of TRIDI, explains that with a total of investment of sh756b, 50,000 acres of mulberry crop will be developed to facilitate 56 factories which will be established in 50 districts to create 300,000 jobs worth sh305b annually and the Government will receive sh54.9bn in taxes annually.

He adds that today the project needs a minimum of 50,000 acres of land under mulberry to feed the silkworm and produce enough silk yarn. He reveals that already they have received requests from global brands like Mark and Spencer of UK, Pierre Carbinfrom France to supply the with about 200 tons of silk yarn every month.

Masiga explains that 6kg of cocoons produce a kilogramme of silk yarn. From one acre of mulberry, one can harvest 1080kg of cocoons from six cycles of silkworm rearing. This produces 180kg of silk yarn per a year that generates sh33.7m.

The project has a number of achievements that include establishment of 2,000 acres of mulberry across the country the food for silk worms, built rearing houses at Kitagata, Kiruhura, Nakaseke, Luwero, Kween, Obira upper station in Nwoya and Kijumba station in Mubende, which have stopped at the roofing stage.

Also, constructed two factories in Kween and Sheema which installation of the state-of-the-art silk processing machines and equipment is incomplete. He adds that, so far, over 1,300 people have been employed.

“We had planned to establish an incubator for the silk worm eggs in Sheema to reduce on expenditure on procuring eggs that cost about sh1bn every year yet at times we make losses in cases where eggs hatch before reaching the destination. The equipment cost sh1.7bn to start making our own eggs,” he says.

The Finance Challenges

Robson Aine, the monitoring and evaluation officer at TRIDI, says by the time budget process was concluded for this financial year, they had already started on the construction of the two factories that process the silk cocoons into yarn that would fetch more revenue.

“In the 2022/2023 financial year, the Parliament appropriated sh43b to the project, and we entered into contractual obligations with a Chinese company to use next generation technologies for us to have a global industrial competitiveness that combines our own innovations and foreign technology and contracted experts to train our local people to run the machinery for a year starting June, 2022,” he adds. The funding is said to have been withheld by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations and is causing economic waste of investment estimated at sh73b.  

“Since 2017 to date, the Government has invested sh800b and we anticipate in five years to begin bringing into the economy sh305b annually,” Aine says.

This is aimed at increasing the production and productivity and revenues from the project through value addition as rearing silkworm to produce cocoons would earn sh8-12m per acre but with value addition to processing silk yarn earn sh20-26m and processing silk clothes earns sh40-50m from each acre.

He explains that because funds are not released, they are losing sh4m per acre of unutilized mulberry leaves. In addition, the institute is paying the Chinese experts contracted to install and train Ugandan operators for a year as per the contract, yet they are not doing anything.

Masiga, also says, they have hundreds of acres of mulberry ready to be utilised, but they lack rearing houses as they had allocated shs40b to spread across the established stations but because they don’t have the money, they have failed to meet their expectations.

“Since 2018/2019 financial year the project did not receive any funding. We have invited the minister several time to come and visit so she can get a good understating of the project but she hasn’t come which has created a gap between us and our month ministry,” he explains.

Government Suspends Silk Project

In a report by Dr Monica Musenero, the Minister for Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI), announced the suspension of the Government’s funding for TRIDI in a report that gave the status of the sericulture project as reported in the New Vision of October 30.

She said their findings so far point to possible fraud and abuse of government resources therefore, they could not, in the right conscience, approve the continuation of project implementation in the current state.

In the minister’s report, the STI secretariat undertook a monitoring and evaluation visit to Kween, considered the second “most progressed” site according to TRIDI.

Musenero reported that during the visit and ensuing discussion with TRIDI, they noted that Masiga admitted that the land, approximately 300 acres that was bought with project funds, belongs to him as a person. It is on this land where mulberry plants are being grown and houses were constructed for silk rearing and cocoon processing.

“Moreover, there was no evidence of any formal agreement between him and the project spelling out the terms and conditions under which this land was being used,”  Musenero said.

However, in a document dated November, 01 2022, Masiga dismisses accusations by minister Musenero and has run to court, prime minister and the solicitor general to settle the issues professionally.

 “The suspension of funds and withholding of the funds since the beginning of the financial year means that the tender mulberry cannot be maintained, the rearing houses cannot be completed or constructed, training of Ugandans to operate the installed machinery cannot be done, clearing the payment of the machinery whose deposit of 30% has been done cannot be done and there shall be significant losses,” he says.

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