Paul Job Opio does not easily give up in whatever he puts his hands on.
On February 21, 2016, while marketing the watermelons he successfully produced, Opio ended up with an extremely devastating experience after being conned of Shs2m at a Kenyan market.
However, Opio a holder of a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Social Sciences, used that experience to widen the scope of his production, while responding to technocrat’s guidance in good agricultural practices.
A resident of Opucet Village, Bugondo Sub-county in Serere District, Opio was born to peasant parents who toiled for long hours on their farm to ensure that their children became better in future.
He learnt every step his parents took to raise food crops, which were by then subsistence in nature.
In 2017, Opio retired from public service. This was an opportunity for him to engage in modern commercial agriculture on the 40 acres of ancestral land situated at the shores of Lake Kyoga.
Opio started his venture with Shs9.5m. He says the money was savings from his previous workplace.
In November 2015, Opio examined his proposed farm area in Bugondo to ascertain the soil type and eventually develop a farm plan for modern farming.
“While in Bugondo I, made a number of observations; one was that being adjacent to a water body the land was ideal for year round irrigation, and construction of a fish pond,” he says.
Opio says he found out that the available rural electricity line connection was potential for agro processing, and the hillside with thick forest cover ideal for afforestation and bee-keeping
“The existing borehole was ideal for provision of clean cooking and drinking water for domestic animal rearing, drip irrigation and poultry keeping,” he said.
To grow melons, he starts with ploughing the land, then digs holes that are feet deep and two feet wide.
Then he adds a spoonful of cow dung in each hole few weeks before planting.
“The holes should be a metre apart and the rows at least a metre-and-half apart for good growing. Besides
the dung, I also add a spoonful of DAP fertiliser a day before planting seeds of either Sukali F1 or Milia F1 varieties of melons. I normally put two or three seeds in each hole, just in case one does not germinate,” he explains, adding that he top-dresses with CAN. Melon seeds germinate in between five and seven days and he plants half a kilogramme of seeds on an acre.
It is important to mulch the plants to avoid damage, but this is tricky on a large farm like his.
“To curb weeds, I spray the field with herbicides a few days before planting. I use scarecrows to scare away birds which damage seedlings,” says Opio, noting that he prevents waterlogging especially during the rainy season by digging trenches between the rows. The fruits are ready for harvest in about three months and to know if they are mature, they produce a hollow sound when tapped. Each plant offers him four to five melons.
“I harvest the fruits by cutting their stems with a sharp knife, breaking them with a hand causes damage.” On an acre he cultivates an average of 4,000 plants of watermelon and from each plant he is able to harvest five fruits. He says on average, his fruits weigh 10 kilogrammes each.
“At farm gate, I sell each watermelon at Shs3,000,” he says. He mainly supplies his fruits to Soroti Fly
ing School, Timisha Hotel, Akello Hotel and Soroti Hotel.
The income supports the day to day running of the farm.
Using the money from farming watermelons, Opio has been able to expand his farm. He also invested in machinery such as irrigation pumps, motorised weed cutter and oxen ploughs.
He grows tomatoes, pumpkins, onions, paw paws, guavas and passion fruits. He also keeps bees, practices free range poultry rearing and agro-forestry. He also has 1,000 grafted oranges, 100 grafted mangoes, 800 pine trees and one acre of bananas. Opio says he, at the moment has 52 local chicken and 26 turkeys.
“I have 4,000 plants of pumpkins planted on one acre. During peak, I harvest five pumpkins per day,” he said. On average, Opio sells each pumpkin at Shs10,000.
Opio is careful in the selection of enterprises. He grows watermelon, so far he has 10 acres planted with watermelons.
The retired civil servant says he was introduced to melons by an agronomist in 2016 after trying his hand on millet, which earned him so little.
“I had returned home after working at a farm and wanted to change my fortunes. Back home, I prepared my one-acre farm and planted millet and after four months, I harvested only 180 kilogrammes, which earned me Shs130,600.”
Dissatisfied, Opio says he sought the help of one of the agronomists attached to Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), who introduced him to melon farming.
“With his guidance, I planted melons on one acre and harvested 10 tonnes, which I sold to buyers from Kenya,” he recalls.
With the money, he purchased a water pump and a generator.