Farming

Ibanda couple earns Shs15m a year from honey, coffee, fruits and trees

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Showing some of the hives that they established in a shelter. PHOTO BY ALFRED TUMUSHABE 

By Alfred Tumushabe

Posted  Wednesday, January 1  2014 at  02:00

In Summary

David and Christine Begumisa are farmers in Ibanda District, who invested in farming from their humble savings and within 10 years, turned it into a business earning them millions a year. David recounted to Alfred Tumushabe how they started, where they are now, the benefits, the challenges and future plans.

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After I finished A-level in 1987, I trained as a waiter and then worked as a waiter at Kampala Sheraton Hotel. I was there for a full year then moved on. I changed fields after I studied to be a fire fighter and technician with M.B Fire Equipment. Although I was employed in the city, I kept one foot in village while laying the foundation to get into commercial farming.
I had always loved farming, as I knew it is one business through which I would gradually become a millionaire. I invested the money I saved while working as a fire fighter in beekeeping and also some coffee.
One time as I was listening to a Mbarara-based radio, I heard the President talking about farming. He talked about a number of enterprises one can start to fight poverty. I discussed this with Christine, my wife, and we decided on beekeeping. That was in 2000.
So we set up an apiary, starting with a few traditional beehives. Later, we procured modern ones while maintaining the ones we already had.
To make it business-oriented, we registered it as Katarikawe Memorial Home of Bees Project Ltd. We buy the hives and place them in a shelter (house of bees) we built. There are now 70 beehives, from which we collect 400 litres of honey per annum; this amounts to at least Shs8m in total sales.

Earnings
Managing the hives and collecting the honey requires minimal labour as we do the extraction using the recommended gear. In addition, apiary is supported by the gardens of various food crops as well as forests that bees visit to get the nectar so as to be able to make honey.
Our company sells the honey to the individuals and organisations in Ibanda and Mbarara as well as others across the country. One of these is Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital. The beeswax is sold to processors who make products like candles from it.
Honey from our apiary has also helped our neigbours. They get it either free of charge or at a lesser price. A good number of them use it for medicinal purposes.
Honey works very well on burn wounds, to soothe coughs and treat measles. It is also used as a food or a diet supplement
To beekeeping, we added coffee growing; these are now our two major enterprises. Honey and coffee earns us from Shs13m to Shs15m every year.
We had been growing coffee but on an insignificant level. So, we expanded the existing coffee shambas from two acres to five. There are approximately 800 coffee trees and in each of the two seasons, we harvest 16 sacks. From coffee only, we earn at least Shs5m annually.

Good yields
We employ five full-time labourers and bring on others on a casual basis, who mainly help in picking and drying coffee. With two seasons a year, we sell not less than 30 sacks. Our target is 50 dry packed sacks of coffee. We grow Arabic coffee, which thrives well with other crops. Arabic coffee is best suited for this area, which has highland loam soils.
We dig trenches around them that help the coffee plants to take in enough water. Cow dung and coffee husks are applied as manure and the plants sprayed twice a year to encourage high flowering.
Also, trees including fruit trees have been planted in coffee gardens to provide shade. Between the coffee plants, the recommended spacing is used. I have unique coffee: The yields are always very good. I sometimes set the price a little higher because I know the traders gain much from it.
Alongside this, on five acres of land, we have established two artificial forests of pine and eucalyptus, from which we will be harvesting timber in 10 years.
Fruits are another product from which we get money. There are indigenous and improved mangoes, oranges, jackfruit, grapes, avocados, papaws and guava. These cover two acres. The fruits are sprayed twice a month for them to give best yields. We sell them in Ibanda, Mbarara and Kampala.
There is also a small dairy farm. Altogether, it is the proceeds from these various enterprises that we got money to start building a bigger and better residential house. The house is close to the apiary and has a unit where honey will be squeezed and packed for exportation.
Future plans include establishing a maize mill to process maize into flour to supply schools and other big organisations. We have already acquired a plot of land near Ibanda town for the mill.
But the achievement that gives me pride is that we have been able to educate our three children. One is an undergraduate at Makerere University while two are in secondary school at Ntare in Mbarara and Rushorooza in Kabale.

Working hard
I decided to start these enterprises and give them attention they deserve. I am very much sure that in the near future, I will be much more comfortable.
However, one major challenge is lack of labour because young and energetic people do not want to work in such a rural area or even on a farm. We have also suffered discouragement from our village mates but we do not allow this to put us down.

When you work hard almost everyone is talking about you in a negative way. This tends to discourage. But I have pushed on. They would say I am getting money from Whites and all other sources but we simply carry on working hard, and that is what everybody should be doing.
The other is what also affects other farmers—the low price for coffee. For sure, the price of coffee is not the best. It keeps fluctuating from time to time. Two years ago, a kilogramme of clean coffee was Shs10,000 but now it varies between Shs3,000 and Shs4,200.
The inputs like the sprays and others are expensive. The profit at the end of some seasons is sometimes not satisfying.

Good planning
Bees like any other living organisms have enemies that harm them. There are small birds and red ants. We fight birds using stones and sticks and we fight red ants physically by burning them.
Notwithstanding these challenges, there is good money in farming. Some people up to now think you only make money when you are in an office or formal employment. And with farming, you do not need to work from morning to evening every day, it is just a matter of good planning.