Investing in farming

John Okware, proprietor of Ridar Hotel in Mukono is one of the prominent farmers in Malawa village, Magola sub county in Tororo District. He has established several acres of both upland and lowland rice in his land, which is along the banks of River Malaba.

He ventured into farming after noticing that the high prices of food reduced his profit margin in the hotel business. This led him to consider investment in farming so as to have a consistent supply of food for the hotel. After laying out his plan, he formed a company and applied for a loan from dfcu Bank under the agricultural loan component to bring this plans to reality.

Rice farming
In 2010, Okware secured the loan to purchase land in Magola and Osukuru sub counties where he set up the farming enterprises and installed rice processing machines.

On securing land and machinery, Okware started production in 2011 and had his first harvest in 2013. “My first harvest was about 60 metric tonnes and this motivated me to open more land’’ he recalls.

Above all, he says he was inspired by President Museveni’s statement to district leaders: “ I invite you to my home. I feed you with food that I produce in my farm but I surprised none of you has taken the initiative.’’

Okware says the biggest challenge is unpredictable weather, which has greatly affected production in terms of quality and quantity. There is still a need to establish an adequate irrigation system to have consistent supply of water to the farm from river Malaba, which is the major source of water to his farm. The other challenge is about sustaining the supply of rice to the customers who have expressed interest to buy the rice.

Fish farming
After the rice, basing on technical aice, he started fish farming to integrate with rice production. Currently, Okware has 14 fish ponds, which bring in more than Shs10m per harvest. He sells a kilogramme of fish at Shs6,000. His customers are mainly in Tororo and the neighbouring Busia district.

He attributes the success in his farming venture to technical competence and loyal employees. He has employed two Filippinos and four Kenyans who offer technical services especially in operating the combine harvesters and the processing machines.

Ideas and experiences
“I hire people from the same area to work on the farm. My farm employs both skilled and unskilled people. while majority of them are women from the local community whom I pay on weekly basis,’’ Okware says adding that his employees are loyal because he gives them a sense of ownership.

This has contributed a lot to his success coupled with the ready market for both rice and fish. He says whereas he has knowledge on farming, he still goes or he sends his farm manager to visit other farmers to share experiences and exchange ideas.

“Out of this we have been able to link to the International Fertiliser Development Centre, which has shown willingness to work with us,” he points out.
“We have also mobilised local farmer groups to register as subsidiary partners to boost up the production so that the machines are kept busy and have bulk marketing of rice.”

The farmer groups are going to be supported with improved upland and lowland rice. Along with this, there will be trainings on quality assurance. After which, they will be helped to access financial credit to boost their production.

Address challenges
“Farming is tedious yet sensitive it requires special attention if one is to get better yields. You need to go an extra mile and have an eye for detail, which my team has and I am grateful to them’’ he states.

Okware says most of the challenges can be addressed but appeals for government’s intervention through provision of alternative measures like leasing of mobile water pumps and simple irrigation equipments.

Future plans
If the challenges are handled, Okware plans to have an arrangement where rice farmer groups are attached to his farm for consistent supply as well as going into value addition. He also plans to introduce a poultry section on the farm and engage in partnerships with various organisations.

The objective is to boost up his farm output to realise the vision of earning Shs100m per season.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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