Seven years ago, I started with growing pine trees but it was not until last year that I got heavily involved in agriculture. I started mixing different crops for large-scale commercial farming.
In addition to pine, I grow maize, soya beans, beans, coffee, mangoes, eucalyptus and bananas. All this is grown on a 300-acre piece of land, which we bought way back with my late husband.
While I was working at Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), I saw the potential in agriculture as prices for food are always very competitive. Agriculture has become a very viable business, which was not the case previously when smallholders were struggling with markets.
But now, there is a growing market especially within the East African Community, South Sudan, and DR Congo.
Though I had the land, while at the UIA I mainly focused on planting trees because I did not have enough time to dedicate to the farm. Now, that I have more time, I am more committed. I plan to come and live here and give it focus to make this my major business.
I operate on a 301-acre piece of land, which is equivalent to about half a square mile. The land is very diverse with two hills and this has given us a chance to do mixed farming. After a feasibility study, I started Zuri Model Farm Ltd, based in Buso village, Kyasa Parish, Gamba Trading Centre, Namayumba Sub-county in Wakiso District.
On part of this land, I have planted about 40 acres of soya beans, 22 acres of coffee, and 50 acres of maize. From the maize, I expect about 40 tonnes. Also, I planted over 500 trees of Alphonso mangoes and there is another 500 trees yet to be planted.
Alphonso is a species from India, grown mainly in western India. It is considered as one of the best in terms of sweetness, richness and flavour. It has a shelf life of a week after it is ripe making it exportable and is also one of the most expensive kinds of mango. It is a seasonal fruit with each mango weighing between 150g and 300g each. With this species of mango, I am targeting the juice processing industries.
For the trees, at the farm, I have planted 60 acres, which is 45,000 in number. However, I have been planting trees for almost eight years now. In Masaka, I have 60 acres (20,000 trees), in Mityana 60 acres (30,000 trees) and another 20 acres (10,000 trees) in Nakawuka.
My hope is that once the NFA [National Forestry Authority] ban is lifted, we will invest more in planting trees.
I mainly plant pine and Eucalyptus for timber and electricity poles but also do plant other trees as wind breakers especially the indigenous ones for shade and domestic fruit trees like guava, custard apple and jack fruit.
There are also staple food crops on the farm like potatoes, cassava and beans. These are mainly for the workers; this makes savings from expenditure on food.
Apart from the land which I bought some time ago, my initial investment has been opening up the land with a three kilometre road, which moves around and within the farm. This has so far cost about Shs80m. I am setting up an irrigation facility and this is estimated to cost about Shs300m.
I plan to add value on some of the commodities like milling maize into flour and poultry and animal feeds. For this mill, I intend to set up facilities worth Shs100m. So far, I have spent over Shs600m in total investment.
The next stage of investments include piggery, poultry, a maize mill, plus wet and dry processing of coffee.
The value addition is not only for this farm but my aim is to make this a model farm for even the other farmers around Mityana, Wakiso and other areas, to learn.
Networking with institutions like Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) has helped me get good quality coffee seedlings. UCDA provided us with 12,000 seedlings. I hope to get support from National Agriculture Advisory Services (Naads).
Since this is going to be a model farm-the people around Wakiso and Mityana will have access to learn the good farming practices in order to improve their farms too.
My biggest challenge so far has been the rains, which are unreliable. Because of this I have been forced to invest in irrigation.
The farm has no power and I have been using solar energy, which is expensive. However I am in discussions with officials of the Rural Electrification Agency to see that this place gets power. This will not only help Zuri Farm but also will bring power closer to the people of this area. This is because there are number of progressive farms around and two mines. However, I intend to use wastes from the farm to produce biogas. In the near future, this will help to cut down on the cost of electricity.
The other is about getting workers especially casual labour. For tree planting, we have been ferrying them from the other tree farms and I don’t want to import labour. During the planting, we employee about 40 people.
Skills are still a challenge, this is knowledge got from farming colleges. My appeal is for upgrading of these colleges and building more. This should not only be the work of government but the private sector as well. Government should invest more and incentivise the services to enable the private sector come on board.
While those who have farms like us should give the young people from the colleges a platform to learn practically. This is the reason we are using this farm as a model farm.
When we had just come, there were squatters who were doing their own small-scale farming.
Grazing of animals on the farm has been a challenge with the villagers and this spoils the crop, we have tried dialogue and they are coming round.
Another is security. Guarding the farm is still a challenge because it is a vast place but we working with the people around and socialising with them all the time and in this way the farm has been protected.
We know the prisons service will provide market for the maize mills. I hope all this will be up and running in the second phase, but next year is when we will have the animals and set up the maize mill.
Its criminal to have land and not utilise it, the start is hard but things do change if you concentrate and there is money in agriculture.