By Andrew Kanda & Samuel Kamugisha
The Government of Ugandan risks losing billions of Shillings this year if Dr Monica Musenero, President Museveni’s decorated Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations, continues to hold onto the Shs43bn allocated to the Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI) for a silk project, officials have said.
TRIDI, along with the Government of Uganda, is implementing the commercialization of the Sericulture Technologies and Innovations Project for household wealth creation and employment generation in Uganda. The project aims at boosting the production of silk through rearing silk worms for industrial processing into fabrics and other products.
The silk industry is considered one of the key components in the implementation of National Development Program (NDPIII), particularly in the areas of Innovation, Technology Development and Transfer; Manufacturing; Agro-industrialization, and Natural resources, Environment, Climate change, Land and Water management.
To understand how important the silk industry is to the Museveni Administration, one has to look at the National Resistance Movement (NRM) 2021-2026 Manifesto. Page 184 of this key document that spells out the priorities of the ruling government in the next five years touches on the NRM promise to revitalize the silk industry as a way of creating 56 Silk factories and 300,000 jobs across 24 districts of Uganda, including Sheema, Kiruhura, Bulambuli, Kamuli, Mubende, Mukono, Iganga, Luweero, Kayunga, Nakaseke, Kween, Bukedea, Zombo, Nwoya, Buikwe, Pallisa, Busia, Amolator, Otuke, Lira, Agago and Pader.
Yet, despite the promise by the NRM Government to revitalize the silk industry, a decision by Minister Musenero to block Shs43bn meant for the TRIDI Project could hurt Gen Museveni’s good plans for the sub-sector and make government miss out on at least billions that it would have realized from silk.
According to TRIDI Executive Director and the Sericulture Project Principal Investigator Clet Wandui Masiga, the main plan is to invest Shs800bn into the silk business in a period of five years after which government and farmers will be reaping about Shs2.9 trillion every year, with a little over Shs1.7 trillion remaining in the hands of Ugandan farmers, most of them in rural areas. “This means that 80 per cent of the labourforce in the business will benefit and this will contribute to the poverty alleviation programs of the Government. We shall encourage people to save, and be paid through a traceable system for the government to get taxes approximately Shs500bn annually,” said Masiga while speaking at TRIDI’s Namasumbi Station in Kyampisi Sub County, Mukono District on October 19.
Regarding the genesis of the delayed or blocked funds for the silk project, the TRIDI Executive Director explained that the 2021-22 Finance year was “very challenging due to transition from former Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations (MOSTI) to Science, Technology and Innovations Office of the President (STI-OP).” Masiga noted that things were so bad that seven of the project’s key staff had passed on since they could not access money for medical care as Musenero’s Ministry blocked the TRIDI budget.
The ED further noted that even when Parliament of Uganda appropriated Shs43bn for the project to support commercial production of silk, and Matia Kasaija’s Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development made available the funds, TRIDI is yet receive the money from Musenero’s docket.
The Executive Director added: “The Minister of Science and Technology issued a directive suspending the money and the reason she gives is that she wants to first understand this silk innovation. We were puzzled, we know that in all processes, if you are new, you take time to understand but you don’t first stop the processes as you understand what’s going on. She made that decision and we don’t know how long it will take her to understand before she releases the money.”
Masiga estimated that the project would make losses to the tune of Shs73bn if Musenero does not release the money allocated for the project. “The delayed release of funds are causing economic waste of investment and deny Ugandans the jobs both at Technical and non-technical levels. Our estimated losses shall be Shs73bn should we not receive the funds in a timely manner this Financial Year alone,” he added.
“After appropriation, we entered into contractual obligations to use next generation technologies for us to have a global industrial competitiveness that combines our own innovations and foreign technology. Before the year ended, Parliament understood our direction of thinking appropriated us funds which made us abandon the idea of mobilizing funds from investors, grants from development organizations, and loan. We still need stable funding to be able to meet our objective. This sustainable funding is needed in order to avoid either interruption or loss of already invested resources.”
Despite the funding challenges, TRIDI has registered a number of achievements. According to Masiga, in the FY2021-2022, they successfully planted mulberry on more than 682 acres raising the total to 2,230 acres of mulberry, while two factories that process the silk cocoons into yarn were being installed. State-of-the-art silk processing machines and equipment were installed, rearing houses built, and employment for over 1,300 women and youth created.
Furthermore, in the 2021-2022 Financial Year, the project continued to manage 1,548 acres that were established and managed in FY2020-2021 as well as 638 acres – 136 acres on station and 502 acres of individual farmers – established in FY2019-20 on. Also managed and maintained were an additional 910 acres of mulberry – 320 on station and 590 acres with nucleus farmers – established in FY2020-21. Masiga noted that if properly managed and utilized, the current acreage of mulberry will earn the Ugandan economy Shs4bn in leaves, Shs8bn in cocoons, Shs20bn in sale of silk yarn and Shs40bn silk fabric in the current financial year in addition to creation of 5,000 jobs.
ED Masiga emphasized reiterated TRIDI’s commitment to “adopting Silicon Valley or Route 128 (Boston) group definition of entrepreneurship which is the creation of significant new wealth through the implementation of new concepts.” He assured Gen Museveni and his government that the scientists in the silk sub-sector will continue advancing the science, which he described as their ‘hobby’ at TRIDI, and employing this science to create wealth and drive Ugandans out of poverty. He also made it clear that there demand for silk products and services was “massive” and had continued to grow over the years, making the silk sub-sector “an opportunity to develop Uganda.”
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