What you need to know:
Qutting his job is perhaps the best thing that happened to the 65-year-old Bosco Otto. The engineer by training runs a flourishing agribusiness venture. He says he quit a high paying job when he realised it was not his passion.
For the 10 years, Bosco Otto worked as an engineer at Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) a Kampala-based independent public policy research and advocacy Think Tank. To many people, his job in the engineering sector looked enviable. “I was based in Kampala, and my job majorly entailed field work.” However, Otto was not content at his job. To begin with, he felt that monthly salary was insufficient. “Although working as an engineer gave me the comfort of a regular monthly salary, the pay I took home did not match my needs. It was too small,” says Otto, who is 65 years old.
Towards the end of 1999, Otto wrote his resignation letter. “I had reached the end of my tether and all I wanted was to walk out and start my own venture.” Inspired by President Museveni speech in Gulu, interestingly, Otto decided that his next move would be in agri-business. “It sounded ridiculous quitting an engineering job to become a farmer, but I was determined to make agriculture my source of wealth.” However, doubts started creeping in the weeks after he quit employment. “I knew quitting was the right move, but there were days when I feared that it would backfire on me.”
Additionally, unlike his job at ACODE, Otto had no experience in running a farm professionally. At the time, he only had a banana plantation.
“Apart from the Shs2m I had saved, I did not have enough capital. Yet, the two acres I wanted to invest in were in Abwoc-guna village, Abuga Sub-county a dry area in Omoro District,” she adds.
His only head-start was that the farm was owned by his family, which spared him land leasing fees.
On his farm
Determined to put on his gumboots and start farming, he picked his savings from the bank. He also got a soft loan from relatives because his savings were not sufficient. Armed with a start-up capital, Otto hit the ground running and started his.
“I decided to start with coffee and some vegetables. I hired tractors and casual labourers, prepared the land, planted, and went back home hoping for maximum germination of the seeds.”
However, instead of a land blossoming with rows of young shoots, Otto’s two acres were characterised by small patches of germination.
“I received a baptism of fire. Only 40 percent of the seeds germinated.” Apparently, he had unknowingly planted uncertified seedlings that failed to germinate. “I was shocked, disappointed and left reeling with losses from the cost of labour, fertiliser, and the seeds.”
To redeem his venture, Otto engaged an agri-business consultant. “Hiring an expert was my turning point. I was able to figure out my weak areas and know how to maximise on seed germination as well as higher production,” he says. The icing on the cake was introducing irrigation on his farm, he draws water from a nearby stream. “With irrigation, I was able to start planting a wider variety of crops including.”
Besides coffee, his farm also hosts horticulture, apiary and livestock. He has about 60 head of cattle.
Mr Otto has planted vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, dodo, carrot, bananas, cassava, pumpkin, which he sells to supplement the income he reaps from coffee. “Pumpkin takes five months to mature. It grows best on relatively hard soils since very soft soil makes it grow vegetative. I just discovered two years ago that pumpkin is a money maker due to its resistance to drought and that it is very nutritious as well,” he said.
Otto started his farming venture with two acres of land inherited from his father to plant coffee and some vegetables. He bought coffee seedlings from a certified breeder at Shs1,500 each. He also exchanged his banana suckers for coffee seedlings since he did not have enough capital to buy seedlings.
“When the president visited Gulu in the late 90s, he encouraged us to embrace farming. With the two acres, I started in 2000,” says Otto. He planted clonal coffee which is fast maturing and high yielding.
“At maturity, I harvested the coffee and sold it earning about Shs5m. This inspired me to expand my garden,” he says.
Otto used proceeds from the sale of coffee to expand his farm. He now has 12 acres under coffee and five under horticulture crops. He started with pumpkins.
On one acre he planted sweet cream hybrid pumpkin variety in which he harvested at least one tonne.
It takes about 100 to 120 days for a given pumpkin variety to reach maturity. Pumpkins are hand harvested at their mature stage.
Multiple harvests are so common because individual fruits are pollinated at different times. He sold each pumpkin at Shs5,000. “Pumpkins do well in loamy soils with a good drainage and a high humus percentage. The soils should not be waterlogged as the plant can easily rot off,” says Otto. Since then, Otto has never looked back; today, he grows tomatoes, kales, cabbages, spinach, broccoli, dodo, carrot, and pumpkin. Otto has also secured some land on which he grows cassava. “Cassava is one of the staple foods in my region and it responds well with our soils,” he says.
Expands coffee plantation
Otto and his family are among the few farmers scattered across the Acholi region who have since beaten the odds to commercialise coffee growing.
“It wasn’t easy to start because so much criticism poured in such that a person without the conviction would just give up but right now I am so privileged that I have become a teacher since many people come to learn to grow it due to the income it fetches,” he says.
In 2015, President Museveni visited the coffee plantation, at the time it had expanded to 10 acres. The visit did not change only his ways of farming, but convinced the entire village, district and region that coffee was a hot crop on the market than any other, according to him. “After that visit, I planted two more acres of coffee and during that period until now, I received so many local farmers including researchers who came to consult,” says Otto.
On average he harvests and sells between three to five tonnes of unprocessed coffee beans per year. Otto says the high demand for both processed and unprocessed coffee beans locally and globally makes the market for his coffee beans readily available.
“I sell my coffee to Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) and other private buyers,” he says.
Evidently, though, running a farm business is not a walk in the park. “There are numerous challenges such as high cost of farm inputs and low prices in seasons when the market is flooded with produce,” says Otto. According to him, running his farm has been a learning journey. “For instance, if I were to turn back the clock and contemplate on quitting employment for agribusiness, I’d do it sooner. I’d also seek business advisory services such as project management or have an agri-business expert guide me from onset.”
However, he has no regrets. Over the past 10 years, Otto has been able to establish agri-business networks that have facilitated access to the market. “I have also streamlined operations at the farm and now I’m currently panel beating my business plan for my upcoming dairy farming segment in my farm,” he says, adding that farming is a big business with huge profit margins when done professionally and with value addition.
From his mixed farm, Otto bought a car. He uses the car to transport his produce to the markets in Gulu, Lira, Omoro and Apach districts among others. This has helped him cut expenses. He has been able to pay tuition for his siblings. To increase his income, Otto is planning to start processing and packaging his honey and milk products for sale in local supermarkets. Over the next one year, he plans to inter-marry his dairy project with his dairy consultancy business. So far he has managed to build a bio-digester plant to process biogas.