When Tom Anyii Okello told peers he was going into farming rather than continue with his role as a sub-county chief of Ngeta, many swore he had been bewitched.
“When I was starting out, many people called me a mad chief whenever they saw me digging in the garden. They were convinced I had been bewitched,” says the 40-year-old, who is now the director of Taf Assured Mixed Farm, in Lira District.
He was an influential and affluent man by all standards and many people would not dare quit such a job that comes with a monthly salary of about Shs1.4m. But in 2008, after a retreat at the National Leadership Institute in Kyankwanzi, Anyii and other leaders visited a female commercial farmer in Masaka who was earning about Shs50m a month, and he felt challenged.
Anyii got a quick solution; get into farming straight away and make it a profitable and appetising prospect.
“As a sub-county chief, I had a lot of stress from councillors whenever it came to implementing projects. I started looking at the job as a waste of time,” he recalls.
He used the Shs600,000 he had spared from allowances in the retreat to start a farm on his four acres of ancestral land. He spent Shs400,000 on citrus seedlings and Shs200,000 on getting beehives.
Anyii started the family-owned Trained Apiary Farmers (Taf) Assured Mixed Farm, whose main businesses include apiary, honey processing, citrus growing and agritourism under Taf Assured brands.
Based about 7kms from Lira ,Town in Telela village, Ngetta County, Lira District, Taf Assured ensures the demand for apiary products and citrus is met. Anyii does this through teaching individual farmers, organisations, farmer associations and communities, innovative sound business practices.
He graduated with a Diploma in Public Administration and Management in 2003 from Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development when he dropped out of school after Senior Four at Comboni College. He later enrolled for a degree at All Saints University, Lango, which he completed in 2006. He backed it up with a certificate in administrative law in 2007 from Makerere University. In 2013, he decided to resign into commercial farming after 10 years as a sub-county chief.
“In 2010, I supplied an NGO in Karamoja with local chicken project worth Shs50m. This money got me thinking. I re-invested the money to acquire more eight acres of land. The rest helped me expand my beekeeping business and the orchard,” he said.
With the expansion came more calls to make money. He started supplying beehives, oranges and mangoes.
Naads give a hand
It was during this time that National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) came to offer advisory services. In 2009, he was among the beneficiaries of materials that included five beehives and 100 citrus seedlings while in 2011, he received 20 local hives. Last year, Naads supported him with 200 layer chicken and supplied feeds for two months under the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) programme. In 2017, he was named among the best farmers in Uganda by the Dutch government.
Anyii is a self-taught entrepreneur, who makes most of his research from YouTube. He has empowered a lot of farmers and student groups. Students from Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) Nkozi, Makerere University and Agha Khan, normally visit for study tours bringing him a minimum of 400 visitors a week. For people that come for monthly trainings, he charges a gate and training fee of Shs40,000 per day in addition to Shs10,000 for meals.
With an estimated Shs60m annual income from the farm, which has now expanded to 15 acres, Anyii lives a good life.
“I no longer have that stress. In farming, there is no competition like politics. We only struggle to meet the customer demands,” he says.
But he is also planning to roll out an agriprenuer programme on his newly acquired two acres of land.
“I am planning to have an international training centre such that I can transform as many people as possible,” he said. From the 100 citrus plants, his orchard has expanded to 1,400 while he produces an average of a tonne of honey every year. With a kilo selling at Shs20,000 and propolis at Shs150,000 a kilo, he plans to start processing apitoxin (bee venom).
With the third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (Nusaf) project, he has been tasked with supplying his trademark hives which he makes from palm tree trunks. Each is sold at Shs80,000.
In 2017, he lost about Shs38m when he popped his head in ginger production. The lengthy drought dried all the plants prematurely. But he is a courageous man.
“You must always accept risk. If you lose once and ran away, you can never become successful.”
To sustain the business, Anyii has enrolled his first born, Winnie Konga, at Bukalasa Agricultural College where she is offering a Certificate in Animal Production and Management.
“When I travelled to Netherlands in 2017, I learned that farms in Europe are built on family tradition. I want my family to be involved such that my legacy can go on for years,” he said.