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New Uganda potato processing plant for French Fries offers opportunities for potato farmers in three countries

Uganda potato processing plant for French Fries offering opportunities for potato farmers in three countries
January 26, 2015
The first production plant for French Fries in Uganda was commissioned last Friday and will provide opportunities for potato farmers in three countries: Uganda, Rwanda and Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

It is a first in potato processing not only in the country but also in the region save for Kenya that already has two.

The multimillion dollar processing plant was commissioned last Friday in Kisoro, some 510 km from capital Kampala. The factory, sighted only 12km from the DR Congo boarder post of Bunagana and 9 km from the Rwanda boarder of Cyanika is slated to be a major outlet market for farmers that have hitherto been exploited by middlemen.

The factory built at a cost of more than $10 million is planned to expand into other food products to utilize the huge potential in value addition of Uganda agriculture.

Speaking before the commissioning, the FAO’s Patricia Nsiime narrated how they had worked very hard in a cross boarder project to create awareness that resulted in dramatic increase in the growing potatoes not only in Uganda but also in Rwanda and Eastern DR Congo.

She and her team had found high end restaurants including Nandoos and Steers in Kampala to begin to accept Uganda potatoes to make their French fries. This was against stiff competition of imports from South Africa and Egypt. It was exciting to her therefore, seeing that the Uganda restaurants were now going to receive Ugandan products on their menu.

The number two at the Netherlands Embassy Hans Peter de Woulde talked of a long association with the Government of his country and his personal pride in witnessing a processing factory maturing from a very humble beginning.

Tom Mugenga, the investor, was all smiles. He had seen his dream come true. Dr Bahana, the Technical advsor of the project narrated how Tom, working as a clearing agent in Mombasa had seen French Fries dominating menus of European tourists visiting Kenya. Mombasa is not exactly in a potato growing zone. And so, Tom thought hard and realised how he could turn his otherwise impoverished district of Kisoro into a prosperous rural enclave in the extreme south west of Uganda. He was determined to succeed and soon returned home and started on his dream. He approached Netherlands Private Sector Investment of the Netherlands. PSI saw a good investment idea with a social impact and came on board. PSI would reimburse all funds that Tom’s project would incur in construction and building works.

But this wasn’t enough. Tom then contacted Uganda Development Bank for a loan to purchase machinery. The machinery, obtained from Israel wasn’t without challenges but finally all is installed and ready to roll.

The potato farmers are all excited. They have now formed a district wide cooperative union with more than 4 500 members and still growing.

While their potato yields are still low at less than 5 tons per hectare compared to South Africa’s 25 tons per hactare, the sky is the limit. NARO, the National Agricultural Research Organisation has promised to avail to the farmers at least 20 different varieties to choose from since the factory will be demanding appropriate potatoes needed by the restaurants in the big cities.

The farmers will be smiling all the way to the bank at least twice a year and Tom will be satisfied that he has done his part. As for President Museveni, he will reasonably state that by working hard, Uganda can indeed be transformed and what a way to start than from the corner of the country where spin-offs of the factory are numerous.
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