Bidco gains support of Uganda farmers in raging land dispute

Workers package edible oil at the Bidco plant in Thika. PHOTO | FILE
Workers package edible oil at the Bidco plant in Thika. PHOTO | FILE 

Two groups claiming to represent Bugala Island farmers have clashed over Bidco Africa’s palm oil development project in Uganda, stoking a new round of controversy around the multimillion-shilling investment.

Kalangala Oil Palm Growers Association (KOPGA), a group claiming to represent 1,800 contract farmers, has come out in support of Bidco’s involvement in the Uganda project saying it has improved the region’s economic prospect.

“We are proud to be a part of the project and the development it has brought to Bugala,” the group says in a petition signed by chairman Martin Lugambwa. The petition addressed to banks, United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) was distributed yesterday to media houses across Africa.

“Our farmers earn an average of USh600 million a month from the sale of Oil Palm and this has the potential to reach USh1.5 billion per month when the plantations reach full maturity.”

On Tuesday, Bugala Farmers Association (BFA) a lobby claiming to represent 100 Bugala Island farmers, presented a petition asking the UNDP to sever links with Bidco for allegedly disobeying a court order on land compensation.

Bidco Africa CEO Vimal Shah has since responded to the BFA letter saying the land for the investment was acquired according to laid down procedures by the Uganda government, which is a partner in the project.

KOPGA maintains the rival group opposed to Bidco’s project comprises individuals who are not part of the project in question.

“Farmers in Bugala Island in Kalangala District, Uganda are furious about allegations being made against the Oil Palm Project,” Mr Lugambwa says in his petition. “We find the (BFA) letter written by John Muyisa to be incorrect and totally misleading.”

The Kalangala Island-based Oil Palm Uganda Limited, a subsidiary of Bidco Africa, signed an agreement with President Museveni’s administration in 2002 to take part in the projects as a private investor.

The public-private partnership project seeks to raise Uganda’s palm oil production to export level.

Top global palm oil producer Wilmar International is taking part as a private player in a project that initially attracted participation of United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad) and the World Bank before controversies forced out the latter in 2004.

The BFA has however maintained its opposition to the project.

In a statement circulated yesterday, the group said of Bidco’s response to their petition: “Once again, Bidco is trying to drown out our message and deflect attention from the facts.”