Atuhaire swapped office for pineapple farming

Tuesday December 3 2019

Mr Abel Atuhaire at the farm in Nyaruhaama

Mr Abel Atuhaire at the farm in Nyaruhaama village, Ntungamo District. He retired to concentrate on pineapple farming. Photo Eronie Kamukama 

By Eronie Kamukama

For as long as Abel Atuhaire has lived in Nyaruhaama village in Ntungamo District, his ambitions have been to dig wealth from the ground. Having grown up in the countryside, he had to work on the farm.
“I first did small scale pineapple growing while in primary school. So I would earn my pocket money. After Senior Four and Six, I still sold pineapples along Ntungamo Road and whatever profits I got, I would buy coffee or cows,” Mr Atuhaire says.

Building his career
But 29 years ago, he left his agribusiness days behind to pursue a career in banking, almost 400 kilometres away from home. He started off in the accounts department at Uganda Commercial Bank (UCB) and by the time he resigned, he had made it as a customer consultant at Stanbic Bank Uganda.

“I was going to retire in 2007 after I was transferred to Kalangala but I needed to pay schools fees,” Mr Atuhaire says.

“Later, I left branch banking and worked in the cash centre. But I noticed that people I had joined the bank with had left. So I decided I would resign before the last person I found.”

It took four more months for Mr Atuhaire to retire and on September 24, 2017, it was certain he would have to build his future by returning to his past. His neighbourhood in Ntungamo was enough to inspire him to reconsider pineapple farming. One year away from clocking 55 years, he visited National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

“I thought that within two years of planting, I can start reaping a reasonable amount. The first yield had small pineapples and they have no market. Instead of investing in more farm activity, I came up with the idea of making wine,” Mr Atuhaire says.

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Today, more than 50 jerry cans of pineapple wine and 150 bottles measuring 750 millitres await sale in his store.

The 56-year-old retiree lives without regret because farm projections show he will earn Shs2m per week after two years. Whatever he recovers now is enough to pay off 25 workers.

Price
“I sell between 1,000 and 1,500 pineapples a week. In town, a pineapple costs up to Shs3,000 while here it is between Shs500 and Shs700. This is why I decided to add value instead of selling at that price. My intention is to set up a factory here. But we still lack electricity,” Mr Atuhaire says.

As he plans to travel around the country to learn from successful winemakers, a diversity of other agribusinesses including a coffee, banana, apiary and fish farms will keep him busy too.

Troubles
But behind his successful banking career and now agribusiness are moments of struggle, from petty thieves to workers who harvest and sell fruits as their own to monkeys that eat more fruit than any other animals, labour shortage in rainy season to financial constraints.

The beneficiary now says his experience illustrates the importance savings can play in any one’s life.

“NSSF is now saying you can save with it even when you do not have a salary. I would advise people to save because the interest on your savings is much higher than in any financial institution,” Mr Atuhaire says.

Atuhaire believes his business motivates youth to invest in agriculture.
Should he win the NSSF Friends with Benefits contest, his plans could surely materialise fast.

“When I make wine, it means I am widening the scope of my market. I am looking at drying the pineapples and taking them to the market. I intend to look for markets outside the country as long as I can sustain production. Other people are already exporting. Why not me?”

Withdrawal benefits
On November 2nd 2017, he applied for withdrawal benefits and received his money 20 days later. The first temptation was to rent premises for an unspecified business. On realising that this would not differ from his banking job that tied him up to the desk, he changed his mind. With Shs117m on his bank account, Nyaruhaama village was his next destination.

He set aside Shs40m from his NSSF savings for pineapple farming. On a 16-acre farmland, he cleared bushes, planted pineapples, mulched and did more digging when the weeds came. About Shs50m was allocated to constructing a residential home, just above the pineapple farm.

He has already completed two years of planting, growing and harvesting pineapples. His returns are, however, still low.

To vote for Abel Atuhaire in the NSSF Friends with Benefits competition, dial *254# or go to www.nssfug.org

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