Antonia Nakijoba of Lukerere Village, Kalungu Sub-county, Kalungu District, says she owes her comfortable retirement to the decision she made to leave Kampala where she struggled trying one job after another to make both ends meet.
“Life is now easier for me and my grandchildren, whom I take care of,” she told Seeds of Gold at her farm last week. “I no longer have to buy food and, besides living in my own house, I am able to pay my electricity, and television bills. I have my own harvested rainwater.”
Dairy cow lessons
Nakijoba, who had been to school up to Junior Secondary Two, had once spent some time working at Kiyinda Mityana Catholic Parish where she was introduced to dairy cattle keeping for the first time in her life.
“A priest, Rev Fr John Lule, was in charge of women’s development at the church and he organised farming workshops that I would attend. However, for me, the training never translated into anything practical because I lived in a hired single room with no land of my own on which to practice farming,” says Nakijoba.
She later changed jobs and worked with Komamboga Women Group (KWOG) where part of her responsibility was to mobilise women to form farming groups but she always desired to settle on a farm of her own.
How she started
Today, Nakijoba, at 70, is a dairy cattle keeper on her farm of about three and half acres.
“In Kampala, life was a struggle but one of my children, Cissy Nalule Kajimu, who has a well-paid job, built this house for me some 20 years ago and asked me to come and live here. She also procured for me two Friesians as my new source of income. So around 2001, when I retired here, I expected to carry out what I was telling fellow women to do as farmers,” Nakijoba says.
However, hardly did she know that gainful farming was a lot more than just having land and cows.
“I can confess that my first 10 years of farming after settling here were not so paying because I trusted my casual labourers too much and, to be honest, there was no sufficient personal involvement. I had no records and yet I had people, human beings, as labourers working for me,” she says.
She advises all farmers never to assume that they know everything about their work and to embrace any training opportunities that are available to them.
She is grateful to a fellow farmer in the neighborhood, Aloysius Bukenya, who was a district councillor in 2011-2016, for drawing her attention to the various training sessions for dairy cattle keepers in Masaka region.
“He came to my home and told me that a number of us from different sub-counties had been selected and offered a free trip to Kenya by Heifer International, where we visited different farmers who, like us, were keeping dairy cattle under Zero-grazing. We were able to see how fellow smallholder farmers in Kenya do their work. In fact it was during that trip that I saw for the first time a cow that produced 60 litres of milk every day,” Nakijoba explains.
On their return to Uganda, Nakijoba says Heifer International conducted several cattle keepers’ workshops in Masaka District where she picked more farming skills such as the importance of keeping records and maintaining milk cleanliness.
How she mastered zero grazing
She now has two cows and two calves under zero grazing. “We were taught which fodder grass was more nutritious and that, as farmers, we had to ensure we grow our own fodder grass. Before I did not really mind what type of grass was given to my cows,” she says.
Today, Nakijoba cares so much because she discovered that to achieve high yields she had to invest in good feeds.
“For example here I have an acre of elephant grass, and I also grow such grass as kakira ka mbuzi, Calliandra, kifamba, lab-lab, and a whole range of others.”
Water for her cows
Cows drink a lot of water and the farmer must have sufficient amounts of water.
She harvests as much rain water as possible and it is the reason she recently procured about five plastic tanks where she keeps the water.
Earning more from the cows
From the various training sessions Nakijoba came to learn that keeping a cow should not be seen as just a mere source of milk to sale and to get money. She has learned that a cow can boost the income of a household in various ways. “We were taught how to use cow dung to make compost manure which I apply on my crops such as banana, coffee and vegetables in order to boost overall farm production. I have a tank for cattle urine and I use the urine as manure for my crops. Sometimes I sell a cow or a bull and that’s an opportunity for me to get a lumpsum of money and to do something tangible such as perhaps purchasing a water tank or to pay school fees. We were also taught to preserve some grass for periods of fodder scarcity. Some of the training sessions were about preparation of silage and hay.”
She cannot put her milk in a plastic container because according to what she was taught during the Heifer International training courses, plastic containers are not safe for keeping milk since they are not easy to clean.
So she has been forced to purchase aluminum containers which she says are a lot easier to wash and keep clean. She takes her milk to a milk collection center in Kalungu Town where it is sold. “It is an opportunity for my household to earn some money every day – not just from the milk actually but also from the sale of such crops as bananas, vegetables, and coffee. We are also enabled to have a balanced diet every day. Besides we use cow dung to produce biogas for cooking.”
She sometimes exchanges cow dung for fodder or directly sells it to people who use it as manure on their farms or for making biogas.
“Besides selecting good breeds, proper feeding, housing and handling of dairy cows are sure ways of getting good yields and income. A good breed that receives good feed and clean water, proper housing and friendly and gentle care gives more milk and money while a poorly managed one gives less milk and the farmer incurs huge veterinary expenses that reduce profits,” says Nakijoba.