By Joshua Kato
trueVision Group, in partnership with dfcu Bank, the Netherlands Embassy in Uganda and KLM Airlines, is searching for Uganda’s best farmers. Every Tuesday, in Harvest Money , we shall pro le nominated farmers, until September when a panel of judges shall select Uganda’s best farmers. Sh150m and a fully sponsored trip to the Netherlands await the best farmers who will be announced in October
His compound is like a pitch for animals. Animals move about freely — chicken scratching the earth, goats grazing on the short grass behind the main house, pigs feeding on maize brand and sheep bleating away — near the vegetable garden. This is what life is on a daily basis in Joseph Ekocu’s homestead in Aloet village, six miles from Soroti town. For a quick meal, Ekocu uses a stove powered by bio-gas and at night he uses bio-gas to light his house.
He may not be a big farmer by any standard, but he is a happy one, thanks to his passion and simple innovation. His homestead, comprising a two-roomed iron-sheet roofed house, three well-constructed huts, a piggery, a chicken house and a granary, is his offi ce. “While other people wake up and go to work in town, I wake up to work in this offi ce, which is my farm,” he says. In addition to the animals, he has an orchard of around 200 orange trees.
Ekocu grows sorghum, millet, maize, potatoes and cassava — both for home consumption and for sale. In addition, he teaches other farmers in Teso region farming skills.
Ekocu’s piggery brings in good income due to the high demand for pork in Kampala
Family is my big assets
In 1985, Ekocu dropped out of school in Senior Three and immediately went into farming. The piece of land on which he started farming belonged to his family. A year later, he married Hellen whom, he confesses, has been a strong pillar in as far as his farming ventures are concerned.
He says marriage helped him grow into a responsible man. “I have been running this farm with Hellen. She is the engine of the farm.” Ekocu adds that his children also help on the farm because they are aware that is where their school fees come from.
“For many years, I was stuck in the traditional way of agricultural production. I faced the usual hurdles of a typical rural farmer such as sowing seeds and waiting for them to sprout and grow until harvest, without making any effort to improve the soil,” he explains.
Ekocu adds that his yields kept dwindling because the soil was exhausted, which resulted into lower proceeds from farming. “All I got was some money to look after the family, but nothing spectacular at all. The animals too did not have enough to feed on,” he says.
Ekocu explains that with time, he started searching for information on how to improve yields. “Whenever I heard there was an agricultural exhibition, I made sure I attended. This is how I acquired more knowledge,” he says.
Adopting new technology
In 2007, Ekocu set out to use technology, at a low level to begin with, to improve his yields. He acquired and planted improved soya bean, millet and sorghum seeds. “The yields were amazing,” he says. To improve his animal yields, he attended a workshop organised by NARO/NaLIRRI, supported by the Eastern Africa Agricultural Productivity Project (EAAPP).
Here he learnt how to plant new varieties of grass to improve livestock feeds. “They gave me seedlings for the grass and showed me how to plant and look after it,” Ekocu says. Since then, his over 10 cows are well fed and milk production has gone up. In addition, Ekocu also sells grass to other farmers in the area.
He plants napier, calliandra and lab-lab to supplement the livestock feeds. Now the benefi ts of technology are visible across most of the enterprises at the farm. For example, while other farmers use machetes to cut grass for their animals, he has two machines he uses to cut grass.
He acquired one of the machines under the EAAPP project. “These have helped reduce the time spent cutting grass,” Ekocu says.
Hellen Ekocu and their daughter preparing a sack of beans for sale
Piggery is one of the most famous enterprises among farmers in Teso region. In fact, some of the pork consumed in Kampala comes from this region. Ekocu has been rearing pigs for the past 10 years. The piggery project sits on a 15 x 10ft piece of land.
He keeps five pigs for breeding and several piglets for sale. “I sell them mainly to pork dealers in Soroti town. They check on me regularly,” he says. The price of a pig depends on its weight. A kilogramme of pork goes for sh5,000 at the farm. Ekocu says every year he sells at least 10 pigs of about 40kg each and at least 20 piglets at sh80,000 each. This gives him at least sh2.8m every year. “Pigs are easy to keep because they can eat anything.
There is a lot of left—over food at home, which I supplement with maize bran,” he says.
Ekocu has an orange orchard of about 200 trees. The trees are well kept and the yields are good. The orchard is fertilised using animal waste. “Each of these trees can yield at least 200 fruits every year,” he says. According to him, the orchard is the cash cow. The oranges have a ready market. I sell some around my home area but many are bought by traders who take them to as far as Kampala,” he says.During the peak season, six big oranges go for sh1,000 on the farm.
Ekocu has over 10 cows and one heifer. While the local cows are fed under the open grazing system, the heifer is kept under the zero grazing system. “The heifer gives me the milk that I consume at home and sell the surplus,” he says.
He also keeps turkey and chicken both on a free range and the cage system, which he says bring in money any time. “If you are in Teso and you do not have poultry, then you are in the wrong place,” Ekocu says. He recalls a day when one of his daughters returned home from school and urgently needed school fees. “I sold a few chicken and a turkey and the she went back to school,” he says.
While some of his neighbours use candles at night, Ekocu uses bio-gas for lighting and cooking. He processes animal waste to energy. “The waste from the pigs and cows is enough to help me cook on a stove and light my house,” he says.
Ekocu displays harvested sorghum
Ekocu says he has been successful because of the passion he has for farming. “When you have a passion for something, everything falls into place,” he says. He explains that although he has got support from many sources, other people who have got similar support are not as successful. “This support gives you the potential to turn around your life, but it is you to turn this potential into a reality,” he says.
Ekocu also attributes his success to the close relationship he has with his entire family. He keeps records of every activity at the farm. “There is no way you can realise profi ts without knowing how much you are injecting into a project and how much you are getting out,” he says.
While other farmers spend a lot of money on paying workers at the farm, he spends very little. “My wife and I are the main employees of the farm. When our children are at home, they also work on the farm. That way, we spend very little on labour,” he says. Ekocu adds that whatever money the family makes, they discuss how they are going to spend it.
Waste turned into energy
By Vision reporter
The cows and the other animals in the homestead pass out a lot of waste. But to Joseph Ekocu a farmer from Soroti, this ‘waste’ is actually ‘gold’. The family uses it to process and generate bio-gas, which they use to light the house and cook food. Ekocu goes through the process of turning dung into energy with the expertise of a seasoned electrician. “Bio-gas is produced from decomposing material, for example, animal dung, plant residue and sewage,” Ekocu explains He uses dung from several cows, but according to experts, even if a person has got just one cow, it can do. Ekocu collects the dung from the cattle and pigs shade.
Ekocu demonstrates how his bio-gas stove works
The waste is directed into a small cemented tank (digester). This is specially constructed for the purpose. As the mixture ferments, gas is produced. The gas is then tapped with the use of pipes and is connected to a special stove and lamp to be used for cooking and lighting. The transformation from dung to energy is completed. “You see,” he says, as he switches on a light. “This comes from the waste,” The gas light has made his house cleaner.
Ekocu no longer uses a lamp that generates a lot of smoke, that used to stain the walls with soot. In an adjoining room, a pan fi lled with beans is boiling on a stove powered by bio-gas. “It boils beans very fast. It is faster than wood,” he says. Previously, he would be burning wood to boil these beans. “The cost of the entire system may be between sh800,000 and sh1,000,000,” he says. He adds that if every rural family that has a cow could own this, then the pressure on the environment in as far as using wood would be reduced. “I no longer use wood as often as I used to,” Ekocu says.
Family is the pillar on which Ekocu''s farm stands