By Joshua Kato
Vision 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 profile nominated farmers, until September when a panel of judges shall select Uganda’s best farmers. Sh150m and a fullysponsored trip to the Netherlands await the best farmers, who will be announced in October
He is commonly referred to as ‘a proud’ farmer. This is because whenever he talks about his farming story, there is a hint of boasting and arrogance. For example, he always says farmers must never be seen as failures in life. They too can drive big vehicles and have lunch in top notch hotels.
This ‘proud’ farmer is Patrick Iga. Indeed, he is living large, thanks to his passion for farming. He drives big vehicles, including a Land Cruiser Prado and lodges at big hotels around Kampala. Iga is a household name in the horticulture sector in Uganda. He owns over 400 acres of land on which he grows pineapples, pawpaws, matooke, pumpkins, sweet bananas and passion fruits.
His motto is ‘Back to Eden’. “Eden was the first garden, where, we are told, everything was good with lots of food and beauty. So by using this motto I am encouraging people to embrace agriculture,” he says.
How he started
Iga is a chemical engineer. “I did various courses in the UK and Germany in chemical engineering with the support of the late James Mulwana.
After studying, Iga came back to Uganda in 2006 to start a business. “I was importing assorted goods in containers,” he says. Unfortunately, during one of the transactions, his container was stolen. “With the little money I had saved, I decided to go back to Eden and start farming,” he says.
This was in 2007. He used his savings of sh8m to buy three acres of land in Kabuwomero village, Luwero district and started farming. Gradually, he expanded his enterprises by acquiring more land up to the current over 400 acres. His farms are located in Luwero, Nakaseke and Mityana districts. For example, the passion fruit and sweet banana farms are in Kabuwomero, the pineapple farm is in Wakivule, the pawpaws are grown in Bububi, while the pumpkin farm is located in Wabusana, all in Luwero district. Three years after his return, Iga and two other friends started Farming Consult and Management Company (U) Limited (FACOM) to provide consultancy in crop husbandry.
“It was a hard decision to make, but with the encouragement from my friends Barry Mwabusha and Gideon Zake, I did not hesitate to engage in agriculture. I do not regret having made that decision because I make more money from farming than I used to make in my first businesses,” he adds.
His sweet banana project sits on more than 20 acres in Kabuwomero in Luwero district. To engage in this venture, however, he needed more knowledge on growing sweet bananas. “I did some training, visited farmers before I started,” he says.
He got the first suckers from farmers in Luwero and Masaka districts. Iga says to benefit from sweet bananas, one has to observe good farming practices. Iga plants the suckers in well-dug holes, leaving about three to four metres between rows.
The suckers take about 11 months to start producing bananas. A well-maintained banana shamba can last many years. He also says the plant can only have a few suckers around it to maintain the sweetness and ensure the bunch is sizeable. “We normally plant cereals in the plantation to retain the nutrients in soil. We plant crops like soya beans and pumpkins, among others,” he says. The plantation, Iga says, is normally attacked by insects. “We spray the plantation regularly to kill them,” he explains.
Some of the cottages at the farming training centre in Kabuwomero
Iga has got over 20 acres under pineapples. He says just like other crops, pineapples too are of high value, especially if the shamba is well-maintained. Each acre of pineapples takes at least 12,000 plants, meaning that Iga has over 250,000 pineapple plants. “When planted, they take 18 months to start producing fruits.
Pineapple plants can yield for over four years. Harvesting is done in two seasons per year,” he says. Iga, however, has fruits all year round because he grows his pineapples in blocks following each other and irrigates them. “I harvest over 10,000 fruits every week at the peak of the season,” he says. Each pineapple costs about sh1,000 on the market, Iga earns a fortune. He also sells pineapple suckers at sh50 each to other farmers.
Iga grows passion fruits on over 20 acres of land. He says he picked on passionfruits because they are a high value crop that brings in a lot of money if well-maintained. He maintains his crop so well that on average, he gets between 20,000kg and 30,000kg per acre every season. “It is possible to get sh27m from an acre per season of six months,” he says. Iga says he achieves this by using improved seedlings, applying fertilisers at the right time and in the best quantities. Iga also uses irrigation to keep the crops healthy even during dry seasons. “One of the drawbacks to farming in Uganda is lack of water, but once you solve that problem, everything falls in line,” he says.
Iga has dedicated seven acres to pawpaws. He says he decided to grow the fruit after carrying out a market survey and discovering a glaring scarcity. “I realised that pawpaws can grow anywhere in this region and yet they fetch good money on the market,” he says. Iga observes that there are few pawpaws during the dry season. For example, between January and March, a big pawpaw went for as high as sh5,000 in most markets around the city.
Iga is rich by Ugandan standards. He has achieved this wealth through farming. “My best achievements is saving on food. I do not buy any food or fruit for my employees and family. I save about 70% of the money I would have spent on food,” he says. Iga says his other big achievement is acquiring farming knowledge and spreading it to other farmers. Iga holds several training sessions for both local and international farmers every month.
He also allows farmers to visit and learn at the farm. “My years of hard work and research have not been in vain. I hope to empower farmers who are willing to work with FACOM,” he says. In addition, the fact that he helps hundreds of people get employment at his farms is a big achievement. Iga employs several permanent staff and over 450 casual labourers. “We employ them regularly to look after the farms and carry out harvesting,” he says.
Farmers training centre
In 2010, Iga started allowing farmers visits to the farm, freeof- charge. However, in 2012, he started training farmers at the centre at a fee. At Kabuwomero, Iga has set up a farmers training centre, with facilities similar to those found in high class hotels. He has got several self-contained cottages for people who stay on the farm while learning. “One of the reasons people are scared to go into farming is because they are scared of being called ‘villagers’,” he says. By constructing ‘five star’ facilities at his training centre in the village, he says he is bringing the city to the villages.
The facilities have satellite TV and other amenities found in top hotels. Iga now carries out monthly farmers’ training in which about 500 farmers attend every session.
On average, Iga harvests about 300 sweet bananas every week. However, the harvest varies, depending on the season. Every week, he harvests over 10,000 pineapples, several sacks of passionfruit, bananas and pumpkins. For easy marketing, Iga has an office in Makerere, Kavule in Kampala, where most of his produce is sold.
He also sells some of the produce at the farm. “Sweet bananas are easy to market because they are on high demand. One can easily get customers, especially when the produce is of high quality,” Iga says. At the farm, he sells each bunch between sh3,000 and sh5,000.
Iga harvests about 2.5 tonnes of passionfruits per acre every six months i owe my fame to farming K
Iga keeps up-to-date records of the farm’s operations. “I have an office at the farm and another in Kampala,” he says. He explains that running such big enterprise is challenging and keeping records is the best way to follow up. “Keeping records includes moving around the farm and taking notes in addition to issuing receipts for every sale and purchase,” he says. He says running the huge enterprise takes 60% of the farm’s gross earnings.
Getting good labour at the farm has been one of the biggest challenges. “Some neighbours are jealous and normally feed some employees on bad talk and make them abandon work,” Iga says. Water is also still a big challenge at the farm. At the moment, Iga has an underground tank on the main farm in Kabuwomero that cost him over sh30m. He also has a simple irrigation system supported by a big water reservoir on the pineapple farm in Wakivule.