By andrew masinde
My Way:Yahaya Wandwasi
Wandwasi used to get 25 litres of milk daily from the cow he got from Heifer International. He would sell the milk and use the money to engage in other farming ventures. When he had saved sh400,000, he bought a piece of land on which he planted coffee. He started with 100 coffee plants and planted more as he got more money. Now he has over 400 Arabica coffee plants.
He has also started growing an improved coffee breed known as catamal, which takes one year to mature and yield. He has 200 catamal coffee trees, which brings the total number of coffee trees to 600. Wandwasi says that coffee provides long-term benefits and continues prime production for about 10 years.
Deep in the village of Lwambogo in Mbale district, Yahaya Wandwasi has succeeded in farming after giving up his job as a local imbalu surgeon. Wandwasi’s education journey stopped in primary school because his parents could not afford his tuition fees.
Although he was an imbalu surgeon for 30 years, he did not gain much from the trade.
“That job was unreliable because it was seasonal. One got work only in even years and remained unemployed in odd years, so I decided to look for something else to supplement my income. That was when I ventured into farming,” Wandwasi says.
How he started
In 1992, Wandwasi started farming by rearing a few local chicken. After about five months, a non-governmental organisation called Heifer International – Uganda came to his village sensitising people about the benefits of dairy farming.
After attending a workshop, Wandwasi embraced the idea and attended their training. In 1994, he was given one cow to start with. The only condition was he had to give five calves to five other farmers in the group, after which the cow would become his.
He did what he was told to do and now has six cows.
“It was difficult initially because I would feed the cow, but give away the calves. However, I persisted because I was getting the milk,” he says.
Wandwasi says he used to get 25 litres of milk daily from the cow he got from Heifer International – Uganda. He sold the milk and raised the money to engage in other farming ventures.
He says when he had saved sh400,000, he bought a piece of land.
“I started with 100 coffee plants and planted more as I got more money. I now have over 400 Arabica coffee plants,” Wandwasi says.
He has also started growing an improved coffee breed known as catamal, which takes one year to mature and yield.
“I have got 200 catamal coffee trees, which brings the total number of trees I have to 600,” Wandwasi says.
He notes that coffee provides long-term benefits.
“Coffee requires patience because it takes three or four years before it is ready for harvesting. A coffee tree produces its full yield after its sixth year,” Wandwasi says.
He adds that coffee continues prime production for about 10 years.
A coffee tree can grow to a height of between 16 and 40 feet, so it has to be kept at six feet to get the best yield and to make harvesting easier.
Wandwasi decided to try other farming activities because coffee takes long to mature.
He planted vanilla in the booming period of 2004 and made a huge profit. He used the profit to buy goats. He now has 20 goats.
“I got an improved breed Boer goat which I crossed with the local breeds to improve the off-spring,” he says.
In addition, Wandwasi has over eight acres of banana plantation. He, however, says he sometimes makes losses from the bananas because of lack of market.
Wandwasi also has half an acre of cocoyams. He says cocoyams can withstand any weather conditions and take long to rot after harvesting.
“In 2000, the yams saved us after harsh weather scorched the other crops. That is why I plant more because I know their benefits,” Wandwasi says.
He also grows beans and maize. During a good season, Wandwasi says he harvests over 100 bags and earns about sh1.5m.
Special care for projects
Wandwasi says coffee grows well under a canopy of sun-filtering trees or tree shades. Therefore, he planted trees all over his coffee plantation.
The leaves that fall off the trees mulch the soil, keeping it soft and nutrient-rich, controls weeds and minimises the need for fertilisers.
He keeps the goats in shelters raised off the ground. And since the goats like company, Wandwasi keeps more than one in each shed.
“Lonely goats may even refuse to feed,” he says.
Wandwasi adds that he has a tall fence that protects the animals from strong winds, which ordinarily frighten goats and affects their ability to produce.
With bananas, Wandwasi clears the bushes around the plantation. He spaces the banana suckers 10 feet apart so that each gets enough sunlight.
Like with any other farmer, Wandwasi’s bananas are affected by pests that include nematodes, which cause rotting and low bunch weight.
The bananas are also affected by weevils, which, he says, are one of the factors leading to yield decline.
To control the weevils, he destroys the harvested corms and stems to deny the pests a breeding ground.
Wandwasi says his coffee is affected by fungal and rotting coffee plant diseases that affect the yields.
He is also faced with a problem of lack of market and price fluctuations.
Wandwasi says he lacks storage facilities for his perishable products, which sometimes forces him to sell them at a give-away price.
He also faces a problem of inadequate transportation facilities. Wandwasi says the feeder roads are in a poor state, making it costly to hire a truck to transport the produce to the market.
He is also faced with a problem of inadequate inputs, especially herbicides for treating his agricultural products because they are expensive.
Wandwasi has bought a coffee husk remover to ease work on his farm.
He has also constructed a permanent house and bought 20 acres of land.
Wandwasi has also educated his son to university level.
“This would not have been possible if I was not engaged in farming. I advise other parents to take on agriculture because the benefits are many,” Wandwasi says.