Farmers find lifeline in microfinance loan

Saturday December 1 2018

John Michael Akol  waters his citrus seedlings

John Michael Akol waters his citrus seedlings on his farm in Soroti. Photo by Simon Peter Emwamu. 

By Simon Peter Emwamu

The adage that, fortune favours the brave resonates much with John Michael Akol, the chairman of a Soroti District based farming group, Dadaag Uganda Limited.
From scratch, Akol and his associates have found an answer in Shs50m loan from Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) that has changed their course of life.

Citrus fruit farm
A visit to their demonstration farm on the outskirts of Soroti Town lays bare why the group has emerged successful in their ventures.

A lush green vegetation of citrus fruits seedlings such as apples, Valencia orange and Tomkins mango welcome one.
The group farms on six acres in total with oranges occupying two acres, apples one, oranges one and mangoes two.
Nearly 10 workers are busy on the mango and orange nursery beds going through their paces with precision.

MSC loan
To Akol, all this was seemingly a fallacy until an opportunity came their way after failing to secure loans from other banks.
“We found a soft landing at MSC, which lent our group Shs50m after few weeks of assessment of our company profile and assets,” he says.

Prior to this, he says, they had run the citrus seedling project on a small scale since 2009 as a family but it brought in little gains, as the operation capital was less to enable them hit profits.
“This has changed, from this citrus multiplication centre, we have earned ourselves some modest money since 2016, which has helped us diversify to piggery project which is also channelling in some good money,” he adds.

Work with professionals
The determined farmers make handsome profits from their ventures after paying workers and servicing the MSC loan.
The group intends to set up a processing plant for fruits and vegetables, which will come in handy to curb post-harvest losses.
“It will not cushion us alone in time of surplus but also farmers from within the locality,” says Akol, noting that farming is well-paying and he would encourage anyone with passion to start.

According to Akol, they have managed to offset 90 per cent of the Shs50m loan they secured and are in the process of securing a second loan, once they clear the remaining Shs8.3m.
“The agricultural loans that they offer are interest friendly, this means that the borrowers can make payments without absconding,” the Dadaag group chairperson confirms.

Market
The farmers find their money in selling seedlings to Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) and mature fruits in major markets in eastern Uganda.
Akol says, as a group, they thought it practically friendly to realize profits from multiplication of citrus seedlings in order to pay back the loan within the stipulated timeframe of two years.
“Having a registered company came in handy, it meant we had an opportunity to bid for supplies through OWC,” he explains. They have so far sold more than 180,000 seedlings to OWC.

Diversify
From the profits, Akol says they have diversified into piggery. “We have been able to make profits. We used some of the money in expanding our farmland. We have also invested some of the money into a piggery project,” he says.

Challenges
The main challenge with citrus farming, according to the farmers, is the fluctuation in prices due to increased production. This has lowered prices of the fruit.
To overcome the challenge, some farmers such as Dadaag Uganda Limited have tried to alter the production and harvesting season through irrigation.

“Watering the trees around July and August makes them start flowering to produce fruits earlier compared to the rain-fed trees,” says Esther Apolot, a group member. She, however, says the method is expensive.
Apolot confirms they have more than 420,000 citrus seedlings that will be ready for early supplies when the early rains, return in 2019.

“Since trees flower when others are not yet flowering, attacks on pests are very high. All pests in the neighbourhood tend to strike by our farm leaving more damage,” she says.

Achievements
From the proceeds, Akol and his partners have been able to take their children to prestigious schools. They have also acquired several properties in Soroti Town. The group regularly teams up with other farmers supported by MSC in the area to travel the country to unwind.

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