Aloysius Bukenya grows oranges, mangoes, coffee, banana, maize and avocado among many other crops on his land of about five acres, three of which are planted with cloned Robusta coffee.
Mr Aloysius Bukenya, 71, a resident of Bulawula Village, Kalungu Sub-county in Kalungu District, is a farmer with an interesting story.
After completing his Ordinary Level studies at St Joseph’s Secondary School Villa Maria in Kalungu District, he went to Ssese Farm School in Kalangala District, where he obtained a certificate in crop and animal husbandry in 1971.
He later went to Wairaka Farm School in Jinja, where he underwent further training in crop and animal husbandry and obtained a City and Guilds of London Institute in Tropical Agriculture Certificate in 1973.
He was the best student that year in Uganda and he easily obtained a job as field assistant in the Ministry of Agriculture, and got posted at Kawanda Agriculture Research Station.
“When most people see oil palm fields now dominating Kalangala District as the main cash crop there, they think it is a recent idea,” he tells Seeds of Gold.
“But when I was posted at Kawanda, as a young agriculturist, my assignment was to work under an English man called G W White, who was researching on the suitability of growing oil palm in Kalangala Islands,” Bukenya says. He was permanently stationed in the islands where Mr White would regularly join him to pick soil samples that he would take back with him to Kawanda for examination and laboratory scrutiny.
Together with White, the two made field trials of different oil palm varieties on small plots in various parts of Kalangala, monitoring their growth rate and performance with regard to yields.
Bukenya says: “I remember giving out some oil palm seedlings to some people who took interest in growing oil palm as far back as then. Kawanda Research Station made observations and reports which I believe could have been relied upon when just a few years ago government took the decision to allocate large areas of Kalangala to oil palm growing.”
In 1976 he was appointed instructor at Ssese Farm School. At the same time he became District Coordinator of Uganda National Farmers Association (UNFA). “But then I realised that I worked rather very far from my home. I had already started farming and I wanted to physically work on our farm projects with all the members of my household. So I chose to return home, here in Kalungu District, to be with my family.”
However, no sooner had he settled at his home than he was approached by the then principal of Kabukunge Primary Teachers College, Abdu Kitatta, requesting him to teach agriculture at the college. “I agreed to take up the job and it was during my time there that projects such as poultry, banana plantation and dairy cows were started,” he says.
“I also used the time to persue a diploma in Technical Teacher Education at Kyambogo University. In those days all teachers colleges were involved in the Basic Education Integrated Rural Development programme (BEIRD) which aimed at providing holistic education in primary schools that included farming in the curriculum.
Today, Bukenya is regarded as a model farmer in his home area and he is also the chairman of Bukinda Coffee Growers Cooperative.
All along the veranda of his house, one can see vegetables growing in pots and others planted elsewhere in what would be flower gardens.
He grows oranges, mangoes, coffee, banana, maize and avocado among many other crops on his land of about five acres, three of which are planted with cloned Robusta coffee.
“Most of our farmers still need to improve their farming skills,” he says.
As chairman of Bukinda Coffee Growers Cooperative, he is responsible for ensuring that all its 596 members produce good quality coffee. “We make sure the farmers pick only red ripe coffee cherries and that they dry it well on clean ground such as cemented floors, tarpaulin, or mats. We have our own huller and moisture metre.
If a farmer fails to dry coffee up to 13 per cent or 14 per cent moisture content, we advise them to take it back for more drying. We sell our coffee in bulk to IBERO, a coffee trading company, at relatively fair prices and the farmers get paid through their bank accounts.”
He controls weevil multiplication in his banana garden by practicing what he refers to as crop hygiene.
“I avoid keeping too many banana trees around the mother stem. I keep just three: the mother, the daughter, and the granddaughter. Then mulching is done in such a way that it does not cover a metre all around the mother banana stem,” says the 71-year-old.
Although he has hydroelectricity in his house the main source of energy for cooking is biogas which is produced from cow dung. The slurry ---which is a by-product of the biogas tank --- is used as manure for vegetables. He has no shortage of vegetables and fruits for his home consumption and for sale in nearby Kalungu Town.
His advice to people who are still employed is to plan early by investing in farming.
“In old age, good feeding is very important. Yet it is harder for elderly people to have cash all the time to purchase such items as eggs, milk, vegetables and fruits. This is the reason that anybody leaving public service due to advanced age should retire to a farm or someplace that he or she has prepared to produce the foodstuffs. That way, retirement has fewer worries. An old person often needs a warm bath but lacks fuel to heat the water.
However, if he or she keeps a cow or two, then biogas can be used to heat the water and to cook his or her meals.”
Farming is dynamic and farming skills keep changing as the challenges change.
“Today we have new challenges such as climate change and the need for improving crop production to feed a population that grows bigger every year. This cannot be achieved unless farmers get regular training to acquire more skills to increase food production by attending seminars and farmers’ shows,” says Bukenya.
So even after retiring from public service, he found himself mobilising fellow farmers to embrace every training opportunity that came their way.