Friday, 14 September 2012

UPDF, Bukalasa Agricultural College fight over land

By Francis Kagoro, Nicholas Kajoba and Prossy Nandu

Bukalasa Agricultural College is likely to lose almost 100 acres of the land it occupies in Luweero to the UPDF in a controversial allocation both the Uganda Land Commission as well as the Ministry of Agriculture deny sanctioning. 

Bukalasa is the only remaining public college in Uganda training sub-county and village agricultural extension workers, the others – Arapai and Busitema – having been upgraded to satellite colleges of Busitema University.

The defence ministry says they want the land to set up a military referral hospital, but the college administration insist the land should be retained for agricultural research and training of extension workers in practical skills. Currently, Uganda has a shortage of over 5,000 sub-county agricultural extension workers.

The land under contention is situated on plots 366 and 367 on block 146 in Bulemezi, Luweero district. It is part of the 397.9 acres that the college has owned since its establishment in 1922.

The land in question is not new to controversy. Earlier, the district had unsuccessfully tried to turn the land into a satellite town. The UPDF then picked interest in the land in 2009 according to documents seen by the New Vision.

In yet another controversy, although the UPDF chief of production and welfare, Brig. Jacob Musajjawaza, said the army bought the land.

The commander of the Land Forces, Lt. Gen. Katumba Wamala, says the army was allocated the land by the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) following a resolution by Luweero District Council.

“The land was purchased by the defence ministry and (it now) belongs to the UPDF,” Musajjawaza said in the June 25, 2012, letter to the area LC 1 chairman, Michael Wanda, giving an ultimatum of July 15 for the squatters to vacate the land and never to plant any more crops.

Wanda opposed the eviction on grounds that it had not been approved by the college, which is the rightful owner of the land.

The letter was followed by heavy deployment of the army to fence off the land and forcefully evict the college workers and squatters, sparking a standoff.

The impasse resulted into a crisis meeting two weeks ago attended by Katumba Wamala, Luweero district administration, the college staff and the residents.

Rosette Byengoma, the defence ministry permanent secretary, in one of the correspondences over the issue, claimed that UPDF secured the land title after the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) allocated it the land on January 12, 2009.

“In the process of having the plot developed, Bukalasa Agricultural College mobilised the Police to dislodge the UPDF from the site, claiming that the land belonged to them. This has caused unnecessary tension between the defence ministry and the college,” Byengoma said in a complaint to the ULC.

But the college management, the bonafide occupants, say they were never consulted by the Uganda Land Commission before the alleged re-allocation of the land to the UPDF, nor was their parent ministry of agriculture.

The agriculture ministry, in a May 2011 dossier, expressed disappointment over UPDF’s move. It said it had “conclusive plans to utilise the land for modern agricultural purposes and was, thus, not willing to let the land be re-allocated to any other user.”

Tress Bucyanayandi, the agriculture minister, told New Vision last week that the college had used the land since 1920s and the ministry should have been consulted for a no objection letter.

“The land has been owned by Bukalasa Agricultural College since the 1920s. So, for someone to come and grab it by force is not right. But we are discussing the matter so that we can sort it out amicably because all these are government institutions,” Bucyanayandi said.

The crisis meeting convened a fortnight ago by Paul Lubowa, the Luweero district resident commissioner, to resolve the issue, nearly turned rowdy when tempers flared as residents and college staff attacked the UPDF accusing them of trying to forcefully take their land.

Christine Anyait, the college principal, said the college wanted to regain the land because it was transferred fraudulently.

“The college has been all along using the land for training, experimental purposes and growing of food for the institution,” she said.

“It is surprising that the college has never been consulted on this matter, yet the current land laws protect sitting occupants and users.” Anyait explained that the school also needed the land for demonstration farming for the community and expansion to accommodate the increasing student numbers.

“The number of students has risen to over 1,000. So, we need the land to expand and to carry out research (by students),” she said.

It took the regional Police commander, Richard Mivule’s intervention to calm the two warring sides. Mivule called for calm, saying the issue was being handled by the internal affairs and lands ministries. In the meeting, irate residents complained against the heavy army deployment on the disputed land.

Move to thwart skills development
Unless it is reverted, the land takeover is likely to impact negatively on the on-going government programme of skilling Uganda. The programme aims at equipping students with practical skills to curb the rampant graduate unemployment.

Bukalasa is the only remaining public agricultural college in the country, the Government having upgraded Arapai Agricultural College and Busitema Agricultural Mechanisation College to Busitema University.
Since its inception, Bukalasa College has been a pillar in agricultural research, training and overall development of the sector. The BPA cotton variety was bred at the college.

Uganda‘s annual agricultural productivity growth is still below expected standards, yet the college would change the situation if supported to produce more certificate and diploma holder extension workers. Its agricultural productivity fell from about 5% in the early 1990s to between 2.5% and 3% currently.

“The land is required for attitude change for the youth who choose to do agriculture, to acquire hands-on skills. If they don’t practice while at the college, they will remain theoretical,” said Anyait.

“There is also expanding demand for new skills and, therefore, a need to expand training programmes at the college. The need for more room to train future practitioners and extension workers in agriculture and natural resources-related professions can then not be over emphasised.”

She also explained that the college had invested heavily in the infrastructure on the land, putting up a water facility for the college and staff houses.
Original Article Here

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