By Chris Mugasha
Vision Group in partnership with dfcu bank and the Netherlands Embassy in Uganda is searching for Uganda’s best farmers. Harvest Money shall profile nominated farmers every Tuesday until September when a panel of judges shall select Uganda’s best farmers. Sh150m and a fully sponsored trip to the Netherlands awaits the best farmers who will be announced in October.
For time immemorial, cotton has been predominantly grown on the foothills/low lands of Kasese district. However, this trend might become history in the region considering the innovations Bukonzo Mixed Farm Ltd is promoting on the foot hills of Rwenzori region.
Bukonzo Mixed Farm’s strategy is to encourage farmers to diversify into other more reliable agricultural enterprises. To achieve the above, Bukonzo Mixed Farm is establishing plantations of coffee, mangoes, pineapples, rice and oranges, which at the same time act as demonstration gardens to other farmers in the area.
“If we can liberate the people from cotton, it will be a milestone in advancing transformation in the Rwenzori region,” argues the Bukonzo Mixed Farm’s director Dr. Crispus Kiyonga. “It is difficult to get a steady income from cotton unlike mangoes and other fruits, which are perennial crops,” adds Kiyonga, who is also the minister for defence.
Mangoes are Kiyonga’s the major project sitting on over 100 acres of land. PHOTOs/Chris Mugasha
Venturing into fruits
Bukonzo Mixed Farm picked the idea of growing fruits on a large scale after President Yoweri Museveni proposed it while on a tour in the Rwenzori region. The farm started by collecting seedlings from local farms, but later on realised they were not getting good yields.
They contacted Kawanda Research Institute for seedlings, but Kawanda could not meet the demand. “We instead multiplied the seedlings ourselves after getting training from Kawanda,” Kiyonga explains. For pineapples, the farm ferried seedlings from Kayunga district. Currently, farmers from the neighbouring districts like Kamwenge and Kyegegwa are getting planting materials from Bukonzo Mixed Farm.
Size of land holding
Bukonzo Mixed Farm’s projects lie on over 279 acres of land located in various places.In Kinyamaseke in Mukunyu sub-county, the farm sits on 150 acres. It operates on 104 acres of land in Rugendabara in Kicwamba sub-county, while in Mubuku Irrigation Scheme, 25 acres are under utilisation. Kiyonga and other farmers had earlier started engaging in dairy farming, but when the Allied Democratic Forces rebels attacked the region in the late 1990s, they sold off the cows, leaving the land idle.
Modern farming practices
The volcanic soils in the foot hills of the Mt. Rwenzori are fertile, but Kiyonga says, “You have to translate that potential (fertility) into reality, which needs technology and better farming methods.” That is why they apply various fertilisers to maintain the fertility of the soils.
They also run a poultry enterprise from which they get farm yard manure, which they apply in the gardens to boost production. “Every season, the soils lose nutrients. So it is better to add fertilisers to keep it productive,” explains Alice Kiyonga, a director at the farm. “We grow mangoes and rice under the Mubuku Irrigation Scheme.
In Kinyamaseke, we have constructed a 150,000-litre rain water harvesting tank to so that we can irrigate during drought,” Alice adds. Bukonzo Mixed Farm employs experts who advise them on issues like integrated pest management and identification of diseases and treatment.
Value addition/post-harvest management
Kiyonga says they are processing some of the fruits into juice. They transport their produce from Kasese to the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) in Kampala for processing. UIRI is training them (Bukonzo Mixed Farm) how to add value to their fruits as they prepare to set up their own processing factory in Kasese.Their juice, under the brand Nzori, is already on the market, especially in Kampala supermarkets.
They are not worried about where to sell the produce since there is ready market at Kinyamaseke trading centre, where women, who operate stalls along the Kasese-Bwera (the Uganda-DRC boarder), buy their produce from Bukonzo Mixed Farm’s gardens.
“Our local market is rich enough as we improve standards to begin exporting,” Kiyonga says. “With the East African Community, the prospects are good because we can sell to other member countries,” a confident Kiyonga asserts. They also supply mangoes to major towns.
Alice Kiyonga uses chicken droppings as manure in her gardens to boost production
Bukonzo Mixed Farm has audited accounts. However, records indicate that they have not yet made profits since all the money is reinvested, according to the manager, Nyensio Bwambale. Also, not all the trees have matured.
They are, however, confident that in the next two years the situation is going to change. “Our projection is to earn sh100m from mangoes every year, starting next year.
We hope to earn sh50,000 per tree per year from the 20,000 mango trees.” Twenty million shillings will cover the costs every month. Their projection from pineapple earnings is sh5m from an acre every two seasons.
Alice Kiyonga addressing some of the out-growers in Kasese
“We plant fruits instead of trees to conserve the environment,” Kiyonga says. They also have outgrowers to increase production of fruits in the district.
Bukonzo Mixed Farm employs over 200 people directly.“I have acquired all my assets through Bukonzo Mixed Farm, which I have been working with for the 15 years,” testifies Vincent Tibamwenda, a father of five children. “I have moved from a grass-thatched house to an iron-roofed house,” he adds.
The traders who have stalls at Kinyamaseke trading centre say they no longer incur expenses of travelling long distances to get produce. Hydro electricity has also been extended to Kinyamaseke communities as a result of Bukonzo Mixed Farm. Farmers visit the farm’s projects to learn.