Leaders Question Gov’t’s Non-Inclusion of Local Ranchers in Aswa Ranch

Leaders in the Acholi Sub-region have questioned the government over what they term the deliberate exclusion of local ranchers from breeding cattle in the disputed Aswa Ranch. 

The ranch, which is being managed by the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank [NAGRC&DB] sits on 105,400 hectares of land spanning Pader and Lamwo districts.

The government began restocking the ranch in the 2014/15 financial year, more than three decades after its collapse due to insecurity. In 2017, the government gave out part of the ranch to private ranchers among them Banuti Ranchers, Gravity Investment Ltd, and NAGRC&DB for breeding cattle. 

But years, down the road, local leaders in the region say the benefits of the ranch to the livestock industry aren’t visible and instead accuse the government of intentionally leaving out local ranchers.

Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the Bardege-Layibi legislator says the ranch was established to help improve animal breeds in the region but notes that those in control have sidelined the locals.

He says despite the presence of renowned local ranchers in the region, the government has ignored them and continued to give away parts of the ranch to private ranchers and state-owned companies.

Mapenduzi says that there is a need for the government to show accountability for how the ranch has helped to improve the animal breeds in the region since it remains inaccessible to local farmers and leaders.

Mapenduzi has called on the government to consider equity in the sharing of the ranch to foster the development of the local livestock industry in the region. “The question isn’t about being against people from elsewhere, the question is about equity, allowing people including the locals to survive in the marketplace,” says Mapenduzi.

Anthony Akol, the Kilak North legislator and also the Chairperson of the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG) says a recent verification conducted in Aswa Ranch indicates that a vast chunk of land belonging to the ranch is being occupied by cattle keepers.

He says there is no clear knowledge of how the cattle keepers, mostly from Western Uganda were allocated the ranch which is meant to benefit the local livestock farmers.

“A ranch whose size was big previously has been extended and the government is claiming ownership and threatening to evict locals. Besides, a lot of cattle keepers are illegally being brought into the ranch,” says Akol.

Akol says as Acholi leaders, they will challenge both the illegal extension of the Aswa Ranch boundary and the influx of cattle keepers who are occupying the land. Previously, the Acholi District land board in 1966 approved an application to give 105,400 acres to the Acholi Ranching Co Ltd who were then handed a lease of 99 years in January 1967.

Acholi Ranching Co Ltd however underwent voluntary liquidation before being taken over by Uganda Livestock Industries (ULI) which only utilized 68,000 hectares of land leaving vast chunks of land to be encroached on by locals.

Prof. Jack Nyeko Pen-Mogi, the Acting Chairperson of the Uganda Lands Commission didn’t however respond to the cry of the local leaders over unfair allocation of land but acknowledged that there are challenges in Aswa Ranch that needs to be addressed.

Prof. Pen-Mogi says the current land conflicts that have drawn locals against the government will only be resolved through boundary demarcation before any land is allocated to any new rancher or developer.

Dr. Peter Beine, the Executive Director of NAGRC&DB  also denied allegations that NAGRC&DB wasn’t performing to its expectation arguing that a number of local farmers have since benefited from their breeding program.

“We breed and multiply highly productive breeds for both dairy and beef and these breeds are actually sold to locals at a much-subsidized price. The demand is so high and the ranch can’t meet the expectations from the whole sub-region,” he said.

For instance, an improved dairy heifer is sold between 700,000 Shillings and 900,000 Shillings while a beef heifer is sold between 600,000 to 800,000 shillings. Currently, more than 5,000 improved cattle breeds are being kept by NAGRC&DB inside Aswa Ranch.

In February this year, the Acholi Cultural Institution and legislators from the region jointly sued the government over allegations of illegal extension of Aswa Ranch boundaries. 

They accuse Uganda Livestock Industries Ltd of fraudulently creating a new freehold title over the Aswa Ranch for 15,930.46 hectares inside Lamwo and another 25,516.6 hectares inside Pader without the due processes of the district land boards.

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