Joseph Musisi Ssebatta, 68, is pleased with achieving his dream of spending his retirement days on his farm.
At the farm, located at Kyoko Village, Kingo Sub-county, in Lwengo District, he still enjoys all the conveniences that he had when he still lived in Kampala and Entebbe working with the East African Airways and Alitalia.
“Farmers have no reason to live uncomfortably in poorly constructed houses,” he said while taking this writer around his estate where there is a storeyed house, complete with piped water and solar power.
“Since they work hard, farmers ought to live in homes where they can enjoy peace of mind. Of course one thing comes before another and I had to establish the farm first before constructing the house,” he added.
Today, Ssebatta is the chairman, Steering Committee, Lwengo District Coffee Platform. He is also theofficial seed producer in Masaka region for Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA).
“To own a farm is an idea I developed quite early, when I worked in Entebbe as Assistant Station Manager in Alitalia,” he revealed.
“Before that I had worked with the East African Airways. When I was with Alitalia Airline I realised I was approaching retirement and it was important to save money to buy this land. It took me a bit of time to purchase all of it and I bought it in phases, which is why I have five different land titles all together totalling 100 acres.”
He has some 30 acres under Robusta coffee and he also keeps 30 exotic cattle besides fish farming.
“I liked this particular place because it is close to a swamp from which it is possible for me to pump water to use on the farm. All the milk produced on the farm is bought by the local community.”
He was reconstructing the fish ponds by the time of this visit.
“What I want to do is to rear fish that does not reproduce. I will be purchasing the fingerings and fattening them and selling them off when they get to the required weight. However, he declined to disclose his income from the farm.
Asked how he manages to keep his coffee vigorously growing and so productive, the energetic farmer replied.
He explained as follow: “The most important rule is to keep the coffee plantation free of weeds. The rest will take care of itself. Kill the weeds when they are still young and before they produce any seeds.
My coffee is also shade grown. That is why you see a lot of trees. The trees drop leaves which rot after sometime and become manure. I have not yet started using a lot of fertilisers since so far most of my work has been to enlarge the coffee plantation.
It is something everybody is advising me to start doing, including the state minister for Agriculture, Vincent Ssempijja who is my friend and regularly visits me.
He tells me to apply fertiliser like the coffee farmers in Vietnam and it is what I will soon be doing. Of course we apply cow dung in some parts of the farm but it is not enough.”
His father, the late Joseph Kato of Kyetume, in Kisekka Sub-county was a teacher and coffee farmer.
“Even my grandfather used to grow coffee and it was the income from coffee that paid my school fees at St Henry’s College Kitovu and at St Mary’s College Kisubi.
So as I planned my retirement I was sure I would not regret becoming a farmer. All my children have completed their education and are employed. Two of them work and live overseas. My biggest setback is the sudden death of my wife about three years ago.”
As the chairman of the District Coffee Platform Steering Committee, he devotes a lot of his time traversing the district holding coffee farmers’ seminars and coffee shows with a view to popularise coffee growing and to improve coffee quality and production.
“We expected that by 2015 the country would be exporting at least 4.5 million 60-kilogram-bags which it used to export long ago but unfortunately this has not yet happened mainly due to the coffee wilt disease (CWD).
Fortunately, the researchers have discovered coffee varieties that are resistant to CWD and in this region I have been entrusted with the responsibility to reproduce the coffee plantlets by cloning.”
He took the writer around the young CWD-resistant coffee nursery. He is concerned that many coffee nursery operators like him across the country that have been contracted by the government to produce the coffee plantlets are not paid on time.
“Because it takes long for the government to pay us on time we don’t release our plantlets at the right time for the farmers to plant which forces many of them to resort to fake seed producers. This has greatly contributed to the deterioration of the quality of coffee being planted by the farmers.
He also wants the price paid for the coffee seedlings to be increased from Shs300 which as set in 1991 to at least Shs500.”
Asked how many people he employs on his farm, he replied, “I have just two or three working on a regular basis.
However during the coffee harvesting season I employ quite many of them, mostly women because generally they are more dependable.”