A perfect example of a go-getter, Augustine Akuttu, the Akumangor village based farmer in Amuria District, has built a perennial business venture that has seen him turn into an undisputed cassava seed supplier and processor for high quality cassava flour.
In a drive that started with the desire to transform the living standards for his family in the early 2000s, Akuttu today owns more than 400 acres of cassava, with more than 60 people employed as causal labourers on his farm.
The quality of the cassava he produces from his fields, this year won him, an award from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) as the best Cassava Seed Entrepreneur for 2013-2017 in Uganda, cementing his place as the lead cassava producer in Uganda.
As a model in the field of cassava farming, Akuttu was also elected as the chairperson for Teso Cassava Growers’ Cooperative Union, an association which aspires to change the lives of the willing to middle income status by 2025, through growing improved cassava varieties.
His cassava farm, which sits in two different villages of Akumangor and Amucu; comprises Nase 14, 19 and Narocas 1, high yielding varieties recommended by Naro.
The above varieties are farmers’ choices today because of their ability to resist drought and disease unlike the old cassava varieties.
Prior to his current success in the venture of cassava farming, Akuttu had relied on cultivating the old kind of varieties, though on large scale. This brought in low returns.
Apart from the benefits of having local bread on his family table until 2013, when luck befell him through the grant support from African Innovations Institute (AFRII), he started growing better varieties.
His turning point, Akuttu says, was from the cassava inputs, AFRII gave him that sparked a revolution from a poverty-stricken farmer to now a millionaire, and an award-winning cassava farmer in Uganda.
“This year alone, I have supplied more than 10,000 bags of cassava cuttings to operations wealth creation (OWC) and over 1,000 tonnes of cassava products to the market,” he explains.
Akuttu adds, that each bag of cassava cutting depending on the variety, he sells between Shs15,000 to Shs40,000, while a kilogramme of raw cassava goes for Shs600. Akuttu sells his cassava flour at a farm gate price of Shs1,000.
He says besides being counted as a model farmer, he is also a peer educator under Cassava Adding Value for Africa (CAVA II), a project revolutionising cassava from a household crop to commercial crop for industrial purposes.
He says when cultivating cassava, a farmer has to be vigilant in ensuring that the recommended spacing of one by one metre is observed across the farm field. “This recommended spacing allows the plants to have a uniformed under and upper growth, making it even much easier to weed,” he says.
Akuttu adds, poor agronomy practices mean a farmer will harvest fewer tonnes of between five to 10 while on average every hectare of cassava managed under good agronomy practices yields 25 tonnes. “The agronomy practices, I talk about here start from planting the right cassava seed from right cassava variety backed up with good weed control,” he explains.
Akuttu says under best agronomy practices, improved cassava gets ready for harvest and processing within nine-12 months.
He adds that to guarantee the best yields; the farm should be weed free, because a weed stressed field strains the growth of the cassava plants.
According to Akuttu, to make money from cassava farming, one has to process it into edible forms such as high quality flour, for making bread, brewing beer, starch and other animal feeds. He says, since the tubers are so delicate and rot within one to three days after harvesting, one has to make sure that the entire uprooted tubers are crushed and packaged for safety. “The tubers have to be thoroughly piled and washed before they are crushed using the cassava chippers, dried at the rack mesh before grinding into fine flour,” Akuttu narrates.
According to Akuttu, each year, he earns close to Shs100m from cassava as an enterprise, though his dreams are beyond the current figures. Unlike then, he says, he is able to pay fees for his children and relatives in boarding schools with ease.
Akuttu adds that besides having direct benefits to his immediate family, he pays out more than Shs3m to people who help him manage his cassava farm.
Cassava farming is fairly costly in terms of weeding, for every acre; a farmer spends about Shs100,000 on labour alone.
The farmer makes considerable volumes of losses when severe weather such as drought strikes unexpectedly. “Both drought and too much rains are not conducive. While the drought dries up the plants, rains cause rot,” says Akuttu.
Listening to Akuttu, his future dream is top priority. He plans to secure a solar cassava drier. Akuttu currently is using a tedious mesh rack system which delays the value addition process.
He is also optimistic, that he can champion and lead the cassava growers in Amuria to secure a small cassava factory for adding value to their farm produce.
According to Akuttu, each year, he earns close to Shs100m from cassava as an enterprise, though his dreams are beyond the current figures. Unlike then, he says, he is able to pay fees for his children and relatives in boarding schools with much ease. Akuttu adds besides having direct benefits to his immediate family, he pays out more than Shs3m to people who help him manage his cassava farm.