Bidco’s expansion in Uganda on hold

Saturday November 3 2012

Harvesting oil palm nuts for processing. Picture: File

Harvesting oil palm nuts for processing. Picture: File 

By ISAAC KHISA, The EastAfrican

Regional edible oils manufacturer Bidco’s plan to expand its palm growing acreage in Uganda has been put off until next year following delays by the government to provide the contracted 6,500 hectares.

(Read: ‘No more land for Bidco project’- activists)
The project was to start in July. Bidco’s vegetable oil development project co-ordinator Connie Masaba said growing palm oil trees on Buvuma Island in Lake Victoria is now likely to commence next April when all the required land would have been secured.

“We are still acquiring land. We have so far acquired 4,000 hectares. We are remaining with only 2,500 hectares to go,” Ms Masaba said.

Though land acquisition was incomplete, Ms Masaba says earth moving equipment including bulldozers were already on the island waiting to open up the purchased land.

The palm oil project on Buvuma Island will occupy 10,000 hectares of land, with a 6,500 hectare nucleus estate under Oil Palm Uganda Ltd, and a 3,500 hectare out growers’ scheme.

Uganda together with Bidco will also 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 2009 under a $100 million World Bank financed vegetable oil development project.

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

However, environmentalists are against Bidco’s expansion into Buvuma further north in Lake Victoria and are threatening to block the project citing an increase in environmental degradation and land grabbing.

In April, Friends of The Earth, a UK-based international environment group, accused the Uganda government and the World Bank of destroying the environment in various parts of the country to plant palm trees at the expense of local food crops and rainforests.

The group said several farmers were initially contracted to grow palm oil trees, but were forced to sell off their land because of debts accrued from buying fertilisers, low income from palm oil, while others were chased off their land, the World Bank denied these claims.

In June, residents of Buvuma Island led by their District Woman MP Nantume Egunyu, protested the government’s move to give Bidco land on the island without compensating the residents. Ms Egunyu last week insisted that the residents have to be compensated to allow the project to start.

Ms Masaba said government is implementing an environmental Impact Assessment with National Environmental Management Authority. However Bidco managing director Kodey Rao could not be reached for a comment as he was reportedly out of the country.