Agri-tourism: Businesswoman reveals success strategies

Carol Zawedde

What you need to know:

  • Eric Mulindwa and Carol Zawedde Sanyu started as goat farmers in 2018 but the family now runs a mixed farm in Luweero District with a significant market share in agri-tourism.

In the rural Wabitungulu Village on Busiika-Kikyusa Road in Luweero District, Eric Mulindwa and Carol Zawedde own a demonstration farm and tourist centre where they share farming experience with other farmers.
MLinza Farm, which started in 2018, is an organic farm with a niche in agri-tourism. In a relatively short period, MLinza has captured significant market share in agri-tourism through diversification, effective marketing strategies and successfully contending with the various challenges facing farming such as climate change and the organic products markets.

Background
The farm, sitting on 15 acres, derives the name from the founders Mulindwa and Zawedde.
Zawedde’s initial entry in farming was to demystify the fact that farming is boring.  The couple bought land in Luweero, which was sparsely populated by then but the booming agricultural activities in the area combined with the upgrading of the roads, land has now become pricey.
The couple was eager to carve out their own entrepreneurial path, and particularly interested in the business opportunities presented by goat business, which they had read about in the media. So, when an opportunity to start farming came, they took it.
The initial idea was to find opportunities in the goat farming business, but after studying the market, it was decided that a farm established only on goats would be too risky. They therefore started exploring simpler diversification.

Zawedde says that goats are normally ready at least after one year but you have costs of labour, medical and feeding. When the goat numbers increased, they leased 200 acres of land in Kiruhura District to expand the business.
“Leaving the farm empty here was not making any profit. During the course of goat farming, we encountered sustainability challenges and we were looking at options of managing that issue. We decided to try a few things including rearing chicken, rabbits, turkeys, guinea fowls, ducks and catfish. This way, we managed to sustain the farm,” Zawedde, MLinza CEO, says of her journey into mixed farming and agri-tourism.

Growing
The gamble into agri-tourism has paid off as many tour operators and organisations now take farmers to their farm.
Zawedde discovered that the growth opportunities are somewhat restricted because local people account for a tiny proportion of visitors to her farm. To tap into the mass market, Zawedde, introduced a wide range of activities. At the demonstration farm, the couple provides learning, fun, indoor and outdoor games. The visitors are taught about basic mixed farming, camping and team building site for schools, individuals and organisations.
They also hold meat tasting festivals for rabbit, duck, turkey, chicken, goat, guinea fowls and catfish with plans of sport fishing and pineapple hunting.

“We want to bring the farm close to you,” Zawedde said during a tour at the farm which has a pick-up point of their fresh produce in Ntinda, Kampala.
Agri-tourism is on the rise in Uganda as the country is experiencing fast urbanisation.
Many farmers are taking up agri tourism because crops are grown for tourism purposes then sold off to earn income. It is possible to do on both large and small scale farms with new or high value techniques. The tourists travel to see how the crops are cared for and how they are planted.
The industry is expected to grow given the increasing safari packages available.

Create your own market
Finding the market in Uganda is among the serious challenges facing farmers. Not Zawedde. She says that with farm business:” “You can do it at a local level.”  She explains that one needs to market themselves in the community of operation, family, friends, and friends of friends. 
“These people around you will amplify the message to the world. Let these people know what you are farming and selling. Trust me you will not even notice when the world will know you,” she explains.

After taking a farm tour, visitors are given a treat of fruits from the farm. Here they are at the display.  Photos/George Katongole

She says that the farm has ably used its Facebook page to reach out to more than 30,000 people.
To grow the market, the farm offers meat tasting activities. She charges Shs120,000 for a duck weighing four kilogrammes. A comfort visit to the farm costs Shs30,000. This includes a guided farm tour and basic training about the farming enterprises. The visitors are given fruits, a soft drink or cup of blackjack tea.
For those interested in meat tasting, visit fee is Shs150,000 with selected meats from the menu.

Diversify farm production
Zawedde explains that copying from other enterprises, almost all companies have different product lines. This ensures more options to customers in the market and thereby making more money.
“Different farm products means more revenue streams at different times. This will in effect help run the farm to clear the expenses,” she says. At her farm, Zawedde combines livestock and crops which can bring in revenue at different times of the year. When the crops are not ready, especially during the hot months, she can count on revenues from chicken, ducks, or agri tourism.

Good management
Zawedde explains that a farming business must have a good management system so as to be more productive with disciplined and experienced workers. She says the farm workers should be made aware of the mission and vision of the farm and the rules and regulations while at work. She keeps feeding programmes on the farm and makes sure they are followed to the dot. As an organic farmer, Zawedde feels the pressure of the requirements of labour-intensive practices. She says that since most of the activities are done by hand hoes, getting farm workers is getting hard.

Master the feeding
Feeds contribute a significant percentage towards farm costs and Zawedde says that managing it properly matters to the sustainability of the farm. For birds, she advises using brewers mash to supplement feeds during the tough times. She says that most livestock can easily eat the mash for maybe three days as you try to raise the money for feeding.
She advises farmers to grow their own pastures. She has alfalfa, lablab, Napier, brachiaria, sun hemp, calliandra, butterfly peas (centrosema) and chloris gayana, among others.
To have sufficient water in a usually dry area, she has dug a well and established water reservoirs.

Focus on quality
When MLinza entered the agri tourism market, there were already a handful of local players in the market. Instead of competing, the company focused on winning over customers through a higher quality product. From the get-go, it implemented rigorous organic certifications to communicate the message of quality and wellness. 
She adds that their approach debunks the notion that farming is for the old, tired and bored.

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