I started farming on one acre, but earn millions

By Vision Reporter

Added 28th January 2014 01:45 PM

In Mbale district, where owning an acre of land could pass for pure privilege

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By Daniel Edyegu

trueVision 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 await the best farmers who will be announced in October.


In Mbale district, where owning an acre of land could pass for pure privilege given the dense population in the area, Joab Jonadab Keki, 53, owns not just one, but 500 acres of farmland. The land, located in Aisa Parish, Namanyonyi sub- county, stretches in to two villages — and all of it is optimally used for mixed farming.

It holds over 100,000 Arabica coffee trees, 10,000 cocoa trees, 10,000 vanilla plants, 50,000 bogoya banana plants, 1,000 muvule trees and nurtures two heifers. How he acquired such a wide chunk of land from just an acre that he inherited from his father, Jonadab Keki in 1980, is as a gradual as it is interesting. But what is clear is that the proceeds from this farm have turned him into a millionaire. How he started “When I inherited an acre of land from my father, I saw this as a starting point to acquire more land.


Keki extracting cocoa seeds from the pods. Keki has 10,000 cocoa plants on his farm

Coffee was and still is the main cash crop here. So I planted coffee trees on the land I got, sold coffee and started purchasing more land. Each year I sold coffee, I purchased more land with the proceeds,” Keki explains. The result? A gradual increase in Keki’s acreage of land to the present chunk. A stroll through his farm shows a farmer who has mastered the art of blending both traditional and scientific farming practices to boost his yields. To check erosion on the farm, Keki has dug contours at various places along the slope.

The bananas, coffee, cocoa and vanilla plants are sheltered under huge trees to provide shade for the crops to thrive. “In fact, the easiest way for neighbours to know that they are within my land is when they come in contact with the contours,” he jokes. Good earnings, value addition From the coffee alone, Keki earns about sh25m annually, depending on the yields. During the harvest season, he uses both family and external labour to pick the ripe cherries.

He pulps the cherries within the vast farm and uses the husks as manure on the farm before drying the parchment for sale. Currently, a kilogramme of parchment goes for between sh2,500 and sh3,500, depending on the quality. In an effort to increase earnings, Keki last year planted 10,000 cocoa seedlings and 10,000 vanilla plants on the farm. Each seedling of vanilla cost sh1,000, while cocoa cost sh300.

Vanilla matures in about three years, while cocoa takes 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 await the best farmers who will be announced in October  of Uganda because I saw this from the farm of a friend in Sironko district,” Keke stresses.

However, there is more to his latest engagement to cocoa and vanilla than just the mere low production costs. “I plan to purchase a coffee de-husking machine in about two years. It costs $400,000 (about sh1.02b). The plan is that if vanilla stays at the present price, or even makes a slight decline, I can raise that money from the crop in addition to the coffee proceeds,” Keki explains. A de-husking machine will enable Keki add value to the coffee through de-husking the dried parchment into green beans, which fetch five times the price of parchment. Green beans cost about sh25,000 per kilogramme on the international market.


Diseases, biggest challenge In 2006, the deadly banana wilt disease wiped out Keki’s entire banana plantation. Keki’s wife Miriam explains that except for a few resistant banana varieties, the disease dealt a deathly blow to the farm. “We nearly gave up on growing bananas after the disaster. But we gave it another go in 2008. Bogoya is the dominant banana variety on the farm, but there are also matooke (plantains) and other varieties.

Each week, I harvest from 50 to 70 bunches of bogoya. A bunch of bogoya ranges from sh5,000 to sh10,000, depending on the size. Traders collect bunches here with trucks,” Miriam explains. The bananas, according to Miriam, is a supplementary source of income to offset emergencies such as payment of fees for the children in case proceeds from coffee delay. Keki has also ensured that nothing goes to waste from his two heifers.

Besides the milk, Keki uses the dung as manure in the coffee plantation, as well as for making biogas for cooking and lighting his house. Creating own power source With the support from World Vision, a charity organisation, Keki last year installed the biogas system at his home. “World Vision only tasked me to purchase the bricks, biogas apparatus and a few building materials. They did all the technical work at no cost.

The biogas is convenient considering that it’s healthy, smells fresh and saves on the destruction of trees in the environment,” Keki says. Taking one stride at a time, Keki believes his present mixed ventures in farming provide sufficient ground to bolster his future prospects in farming about five years before harvesting starts. On average, each cocoa tree can yield 7kg of beans per harvest, while each vanilla tree can yield up to 30kg.

Currently, a kilo of cocoa beans goes for sh5,000, while vanilla prices have made unprecedented leap to sh25,000 per kilogramme from about sh7,000 a year ago. “Unlike coffee, cocoa requires little tending. For instance, one does not need inputs like pulping machines and dehuskers that coffee requires. So a farmer earns maximum gains with little input. It is my first time to venture into this cash crop, but I am optimistic it can yield well in this part

cooperative eases marketing

To have better bargaining power for their coffee, Keki, together with other farmers in the area, formed a cooperative society called Peace Kawomera Growers’ Cooperative. Currently, the cooperative has over 2,000 members with Keki as the director.

The organisation has stores, where the coffee is kept before export. Since the cooperative produces coffee for export, it has to occasionally hire a dehusking machine to prepare parchment into green beans ready for export. “I plan to build my own stores for the coffee, but presently, I keep all my coffee in the cooperative’s stores. We are in the process of acquiring an export licence to allow us take our coffee direct to the international market not through a third party. It is only then that we will realise better benefits of coffee export trade,” Keki explains.

Farming tip

Aspects coffee farmers should note

By Joshua Kato

One of Keki’s key enterprises is growing coffee. Growing coffee has many stages, but controlling losses on the farm is important for a farmer is to get maximum gains from the crop. Below are some aspects a coffee farmer should look at critically to harness good returns; Minimising post-harvest losses The final quality of coffee depends a lot on how well the coffee has been picked, processed, dried, packed and stored. To minimise contamination until safe storage, it is, therefore, important to carefully harvest and safely handle the harvested coffee through primary processing activities.

Timely harvesting The quality of the coffee depends on how and when picking is done from the field. Many farmers mix red ripe berries with shrivelled, black, discoloured and defective beans. The unripe berries produce beans that break easily, are of inferior quality, are small and are usually eliminated as part of the husks during milling, resulting in qualitative and quantitative post-harvest losses.

Immature beans also give a bitter taste to the coffee. Recommendations to farmers for proper coffee harvesting l When picking coffee, carefully pick only the mature red beans, leaving the green ones on the tree to ripen. Always pick, do not strip. l Tarpaulin or other soft sheets must be spread on the ground below the coffee tree to avoid coffee beans from directly dropping to the ground.

The sheets will also ensure proper collection of all the beans and will minimise contamination of the beans. l Remove all inferior or green beans, leaves, twigs and other foreign matter from harvested beans. Pick the ripe berries regularly, every two weeks, to get good yields and better quality. Primary processing Coffee farmers loose up to 30% of their harvest due to poor handling during wet and dry processing.

This is mainly due to moulding as a result of slow drying or poor ventilation in the storage units of dried coffee. Such coffee also develops off-flavours, which eventually affect its cupping quality. Most of these losses are avoidable if the farmer makes an extra effort to carefully handle harvested produce. Next week, we shall handle the key aspects of primary processing of coffee


I started farming on one acre, but i earn millions today

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