Upon deserting the army in 1977, Sam Opio Oceng’s plan was to hide in his home village, Olelpek, found in Akere Parish, Apac Sub-county in Apac District. While there, he spent most of the time digging in the garden to get food for subsistence.
It was not until 1987 that he started farming, with the aim of producing a surplus for sale. He was growing beans, cassava, groundnuts, simsim, maize and sorghum.
“I would sell the crops locally, mostly to schools and in Kampala,” Oceng says.
But his perception changed when the President visited Apac district. “In 2003, President Museveni inspired me during his tour in the district. He advised farmers to plant improved mangoes and other crops as well as practice better farming methods,” the 59-year-old ex-soldier recalls.
So, he got involved in the Naads programmes in Apac, through which he received support for livestock and fish farming, beekeeping, and tree planting. He also added fruits to the crops on the farm.
First, though he had been planting cassava, he replaced it with improved varieties.
“Agricultural extension workers have always told me about any recent improved or disease resistant crop varieties including cassava. And I take their advice seriously by planting such crops,” Oceng says adding that cassava earns him more than Shs6m a year.
The fruits he introduced on his farm are mangoes, oranges and tangerines. He started with 200 seedlings from Kawanda research station. He sells the mangoes at Shs300 each and Shs10,000 a bag; from this he earns about Shs3m a year. The oranges and tangerines go for Shs10,000 each sack, and he gets about Shs7m per year.
“I’ve planted more than 300 improved seedlings, which will start producing fruit this year,” he points out saying that he is targeting selling it when at the proposed fruit factory in Lira town is set up.
Apart from crops, Oceng also went into poultry and livestock farming with chicken and cattle as well as aquaculture with fish.
The clients for the eggs are hotels and restaurants in Apac and Lira town. Each tray is sold at Shs6,000 and each layer produces about 35 eggs. On average, 15 trays are collected per day.
There are 100 heads of cattle, which he takes to the market as live animals or slaughtered for beef or milk.
“The cattle and their products including milk fetch at least Shs20m in a year,” he says.
Beekeeping is also an activity he carries out and he has plans of adding value to the products.
“With the 70 beehives, I get about Shs6m in a year, by selling a litre of honey at Shs3,000,” he states as he reveals the plan to package the honey for it to fetch more money and be able to get into markets outside Apac District. “I plan to sell my apiary products in Kampala or outside Uganda, in the next few years,” he notes.
However, unlike the other enterprises on his farm that were already there, fish farming is a new venture: “I’ve dug a pond, which now ready for stocking.” The same goes for the pine trees, for which he takes a long-term view.
“I expect to realise from Shs300m to Shs400m in about 12 years’ time from the proceeds of pine trees I’ve planted on 10 hectares of government reserved lands.”
Oceng believes that planting the trees is the most vibrant and lucrative investment he has ever done. With more than 200,000 pine trees, it probably is.
But though he earns a lot from farming, being a business and with unpredictable factors inherent in farming, at times Oceng seeks credit support.
“Sometimes, I get small loans to facilitate farming activities,” he acknowledges.
Challenges include adverse weather patterns, which have sometimes devastated the crops or affected the other activities in one way or another. The fluctuation of prices, which leads to losses is another as well as the thieves who target the farm produce.
Overall, Oceng says he is glad that most of his dreams have been accomplished using the proceeds from farming. “My four children have graduated with degrees or diploma in various fields. This is a huge achievement I’ll live to remember.”
He has also built two residential houses and a commercial building in Apac town with the income from farming.
Practicing agriculture has given him a high profile in the northern region and as result, other farmers in Uganda and even East Africa come for visits and study tours to share lessons and exchange experiences.