Job loss led Semungoma into commercial farming

Tuesday February 27 2018



Mr Joe Semungoma

Mr Joe Semungoma 

By Eronie Kamukama

Mr Joe Semungoma had expectations for his retirement. At a time he had a few more years to work, he thought he would retire at old age and by then, most of his children would have completed school. He also thought he would have built rental houses and his job would simply involve waking up to collect money from tenants every month.

However, retirement arrived too early having worked for Uganda National Roads Authority for six years. He was the director of finance and administration when the organisation suddenly underwent a restructuring process in 2014. He lost his job unexpectedly.

“The changes happened abruptly and I did not expect it,” he says.
The retirement came with changes he had to embrace. It meant changing from a lifestyle that is formal to informal, dealing with rural people, controlling one’s time and thinking by oneself because earning the daily bread would depend on how he handled his resources.
“The other side is easier as long as you are able to work. Here, the head has to work 24 hours for you to survive,” he says.

Mr Semungoma did not look for a job because he knew few organisations would give him a similar position so he sat home for about three months thinking about self-employment.
“Everyday, I would ask myself, what am I going to do?” he recalls. He knew if he got instant money from National Social Security Fund (NSSF), he would maintain his formal lifestyle yet circumstances had changed.

He spent more time visiting farms as he was contemplating on a sector he was familiar with. But unlike olden days, he decided to do it commercially. After saving with NSSF for almost 18 years, his savings seemed like the last resort, he says.
In 2015, he applied for his age benefits, an undisclosed sum he received after a month.
He thought of a number of projects, including trading but because he had traded before, he knew he needed a sustainable business.

“You need very big capital and as you see the economy is always up and down because of the exchanges. I was trading mainly from China, Dubai, so I decided to look at things, which can be done locally,” he says.
Once it felt right, Mr Semungoma decided to invest his benefits in fish farming, poultry, piggery, forestry and rental houses. With experience of rearing poultry on a small scale, he used part of his benefits to buy 4.5 acres of land in Bujuuko, Mpigi District and started out with 4,000 birds, and six pigs that would give him 10-15 piglets.

“I put about Shs260m in the forests, in the houses I invested about Shs100m, including renovating and constructing rentals, the well, the solar system. About Shs80m is what I put in poultry, piggery, fish and goats which I later sold off,” he says.

Luckily, the projects picked up very well but seven months ago, he sold off the birds due to water constraints. Having incurred an unsustainable cost of Shs300,000 on a water tank per month, he is now scaling down all projects and digging a shallow well that will provide water for his animals.
This investment portfolio ensures he has constant flow of income, especially because he needs the smaller projects to feed the forestry business, his core and more sustainable venture.

“This is especially if you reach the stages of harvest. The market is assured as you see most forests were cut and we are depending on the artificial forests we are planting,” he says.
According to him, the tree planting business took off with buying planted forests from those who wanted to get rid of them.

“I started buying off at a reasonable price, especially trees around one and a half years. When they are around that stage, they become easier to manage and being a business I had gone into for the first time, I needed to be sure that I could do it,” he explains. To diversify his investments, he dug nine fish ponds but the stock has since been sold off to rear mud fish which grow faster.
“I sold most of it off in October because it was small fish that can grow only up to 800 grams after feeding for a long time,” he says.

Although there are returns, agribusiness is challenging and complex, he notes. There are various elements of uncertainty, which he relates to the Ugandan business culture.
“When you buy drugs, you are not sure you are buying the right one. When you go to buy the feeds, you are not sure you are buying the correct food, especially for poultry and its feeding is very delicate due to the market for production which is very unstable in terms of prices,” he explains.

In addition, it is increasingly becoming difficult to buy genuine tree species so people are losing money to fake seedlings, Mr Semungoma says, having been a victim.
To counter this, he is concentrating on local species because they are more resistant even though they mature after a longer period of time. The demand for timber today is very high and theft of trees is on the rise. Labour force is unreliable too.
The 57-year old statistician and commercial farmer is now counting his achievements as he awaits returns from his forestry project.

Thanks to NSSF, he has been able to set up a rural home, put up rental houses, employ about 40 people and earn income to keep his family going.
“From poultry I got about Shs35m having put in Shs20m. From fish, I got about Shs20m and piggery, I have been selling as pigs produce. I sold some turkeys and got Shs10m. I have been averaging my gross income at Shs2m a month,” he says.

He now has 135 acres of eucalyptus trees and 40 acres of land that await planting. His long term plan is to concentrate on forests, which will involve harvesting and replanting. Three years from now, he projects about Shs300m from 20 acres of eucalyptus trees. In six years, his forestry project will be worth Shs2bn.
“I have peace, otherwise I would be desperate,” he says, “Given that my retirement came abruptly, if there was no NSSF money, I would not be smiling now.”
He says young people must save with NSSF because it is difficult to keep cash and money in the bank is as good as that in the pocket.

Investing his NSSF savings
After saving with NSSF for almost 18 years, his savings seemed like the last resort, he says.
In 2015, he applied for his age benefits, an undisclosed sum he received after a month.
He thought of a number of projects, including trading but because he had traded before, he knew he needed a sustainable business.

With experience of rearing poultry on a small scale, he used part of his benefits to buy 4.5 acres of land in Bujuuko, Mpigi District and started out with 4,000 birds, and six pigs that would give him 10-15 piglets.
Luckily, the projects picked up very well but seven months ago, he sold off the birds due to water constraints.

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