While many learners who have lost close to two years of school are home pondering their next move, the situation is different for Francis Okiror who has cashed in on growing onions.
Okiror, 22, who completed his Senior Six from Katakwi High School in 2019 and scored 6 points in Biology Chemistry and Math, has also set up two drug shops and invested in rice farming using profits from his onion business.
A resident of Okuda Village, Ongongoja Sub-county, Katakwi District, Okiror says he had no hope of joining a tertiary institution due to financial constraints.
However, following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Okiror devised means to meet his and the family’s needs.
His journey to financial independence started when Quality Education Consultancy Limited visited the area to train teachers and students on basic skills for survival in a hostile economic environment.
First, Okiror says he squeezed and planted seeds out of three tomatoes that his mother, Immaculate Otiema, had bought to prepare a day’s meal.
“At the end of the harvest, the tomatoes earned me Shs36, 000. I entrusted mummy to keep the money because I wanted to grow onions in 2020 using basic knowledge I had acquired,” he explains.
Okiror says he bought a 10g sachet of onion seeds at Shs10, 000 in late 2019.
“By the end of the festive season, I earned Shs360, 000 from the onions. This was a big boost to my onion business,” he says.
He again entrusted his mother to help him keep the money until January 2020.
“I talked to my parents to sale off some goats to enable me raise more money to buy 4kg of onion seeds. But because my sibling in Senior Two needed school fees, they could only buy one tin of 45g. I also sought support from the director of Quality Education Consultancy Limited who added me a tin of 45g. At the end, I had secured 3.5kgs of onion seed that cost about Shs460, 000,” Okiror reveals.
“In January 2020, I put up 18 nursery beds of 1 metre by 7 metres each. I spent most of the time collecting water to keep the nurseries healthy. Fortunately, I didn’t register any loss and by mid-February as the rain started, I was able to transplant seedlings on 2.5acres of land.”
By March 2020, when Covid-19 outbreak was reported, Okiror says his onions were flourishing but his worry was the search for market following the nationwide lockdown.
“The onions yielded well with four bulbs weighing about a kilogramme. I started hawking the onions across the sub-county using my father’s bicycle while I engaged the director for quality education consultancy limited to help me find market,” he recalls.
“Luck being on my side, South Sudanese businessmen interested themselves in buying 4.5tonnes of onions. I earned Shs65m, this was money that our family had never received or ever thought of receiving.”
Initially, Okiror’s family planted sorghum and ground nuts but for home consumption.
Having received a huge sum of money, Okiror says he thought of buying a car for business but his father, Emmanuel Obwade, advised him not to, for it was a liability. “I opted to open up a clinic worth Shs33m since it is my dream to pursue a course in clinical medicine. Unfortunately, the person I entrusted to manage it squandered it. I contemplated committing suicide,” he reveals.
With the little capital left from the clinic and other savings, a Good Samaritan with knowledge in the pharmacy helped Okiror register two drug shops in the late 2020; one in Amuria and another in Soroti.
“I invested about Shs40m in registration and stocking of the two drug shops, each employing two medical nurses; two in the drug shop at Wila Sub- County, Amuria District, the other two in Katine Sub- County, Soroti District.”
Okiror says he earns Shs2m profit every month from the two drug shops.
He adds that to ensure quality output from the staff, their pay is always 20 per cent of what they sell in a month, a yardstick his cousin proposed.
He also says because of his current achievement, he is contemplating abandoning his dream course of clinical medicine to pursue pharmacy.
“I have secured an admission, so once institutions are opened, my worry will be balancing growing onions, the drug shops and education,” he says.
Meanwhile, Okiror has also incurred losses in his farming business early this year.
“I had transplanted three acres of onions early this year but the drought destroyed everything after I had transplanted. I am not worried, the Lord I serve showed me a way, I am planning for bigger acreage next year,” he explains.
The 22-year-old has also interested himself in rice growing using proceeds from onions.
“I still have 36 bags of rice I harvested last year because the prices are still low,” he says.
Mr Joseph Opul, the director of Quality Education Consultancy Limited, says it is encouraging to see a 22-year-old Okiror put knowledge into practice.
“I challenged the teachers and students I trained to venture into vegetable growing, a few took heed,” Mr. Opul said.