As we approach the affluent Kiwugu village, Butansi Sub-county in Kamuli District, a serene environment welcomes us.
We are headed to Johnson Mitala’s home and we find the 58-year-old farmer inspecting his rice in the stores.
On the left is a lush rice plantation glistening in the morning sun.
Thirty years ago after graduating from Makerere University with a degree in Business Administration majoring in Accounting, Mitala decided to try his luck in maize farming.
He did it for 28 years before deciding to venture into rice farming after realising that he was spending a lot of time and resources in maize but earning less. Mitala used to cultivate maize on more than 30 acres.
“I used to harvest about 150 bags of maize in total which when calculated you would find that the yield was very low compared to the input,” he says.
He was forced to reduce the number of acreage gradually untill he quit maize farming completely.
When he looks back today, turning to rice farming was one of the best decisions of his life.
“I was growing maize since 1976, but when the prices of maize started falling and I was no longer earning enough profits, I switched to rice growing, never did I know that I would earn big from the venture,” Mitala says.
He adds that after discovering that his accountant job was not yielding enough money, he made a decision of going back to the village and engaged in agriculture and he does not regret.
Mitala says few farmers in Kamuli are engaging in rice growing yet it is now one of the most profitable crops.
“Currently rice is more profitable than maize because it has ready market both within Uganda and abroad. For example in Japan, rice is on very high demand,” he says.
The availability of ready market both within and outside Uganda has encouraged him to go large scale.
“After milling, I sell my rice to hotels, restaurant owners and traders within Kamuli and neighbouring districts such as Jinja, Iganga and Buyende,” he says.
“Last season I harvested 200 bags of rice and I sold them between Shs2,400 and Shs3,500 per kilogramme depending on the forces of demand and supply. In a good season, I earn Shs4m,” Mitala says.
Something that strikes you about his farm is the range of activities including small soybean, maize and potato gardens for his home consumption.
Although sugarcane earns good money and many farmers in Busoga are engaging in it, Mitala prefers putting more focus on rice growing because it is on high demand.
Since the farm is big, he employs six people to help in some activities such as rice growing and harvesting.
Among the successes Mitala has got from rice growing include paying school fees for his eight children and some are now teachers.
He has also bought a motorcycle which helps him run his errands on the farm. He has also built a house using proceeds from his venture, including rentals.
Mitala faces a big challenge during transplanting of the seedlings to the main garden because it requires a lot of labour since they are planted in rows.
He says even flowering stage when the rice is one month old, it is very hectic because he has to hire people who scare away birds from the rice garden.
“Chasing birds from the rice garden is the biggest challenge I face since I have to spend the whole day in the garden sometimes I hire people who assist me which is also very costly,’’ says Mitala.
“Government is giving out agriculture inputs to different farmers such as coffee seedlings, but rice farmers have been left out in the programme yet it is both fa ood crop and cash crop. Rice seedlings are very expensive to afford,’’ he says.
He adds that climatic change also affects him greatly especially when it floods.
“When it rains heavily, it affects the colour especially during harvesting and the quality of rice but now I have been trained on how to prevent floods from destroying the rice. Next season, I will start putting trenches which will help me release water in case I need it,’’ says Mitala.
“I was ignorant about rice cultivation but I was trained by Sasakawa Global 2000, an international NGO that joined government in 2006 to promote agriculture and development.”
“I am now a trainer and the chairperson of Kamu Kamu rice growers Association which has 50 members. I use my farm as a demonstration garden.’’
He advises unemployed Ugandans to join farming because it is profitable. Rice growing is a profitable business because it on high demand both within and outside the country.
Although many farmers in Uganda sell unprocessed food, it is totally different with Mitala, who doubles his rice income by adding valve on it.
He said after realising that selling unprocessed rice grain is unprofitable, he decided to add valve on it through milling.
Mitala said currently, he does not have a rice milling machine but he takes his rice to the trading centre for milling before it is sold.
Mitala has plans of buying a rice mill at Shs7m. “I have taken a decision to invest in the milling machine which will help me reduce on the costs I incur. I lose the rice bran because the owner of the mill remains with it and sells it to poultry farmers at Shs10,000 per bag.”
He says as a chairperson, he has also a plan of starting up a cooperative of rice growers in Kamuli District so that they can increase on the production and start exporting rice.