On June 20th, 2017, George Batwawula quietly went through the normal bio-security checks, before finally accessing the Enza Zaden seeds processing unit in Enkhuizen, Netherlands. This is one of the most highly technological seed processing units in the world.
Batwawula was in a group of seven, but part of 16 Best farmers who had travelled from Uganda to the Netherlands four days before. The other 9 farmers had gone to visit another location on that day.
Batwawula was certainly not the most talkative of the farmers. He was in fact one of the quiet ones. But while he kept quiet, he was picking several lessons.
For each word that he did not understand, Batwawula asked for more explanations from some of his colleagues, which he scribbled into an exercise book.
“I cannot do everything that these people are doing here, but I have learnt something,” he said. He added; “I learnt that for one to have good seeds, they must be properly selected and stored,” he says. He has since started adopting this.
The Best Farmers competition is sponsored by The Embassy of the Netherlands, dfcu Bank, Royal Dutch Airlines-KLM Airways, Koudjis Nutrition BV
Inspired by the Dutch
Batwawula, 57, returned with a ‘full’ head and started putting what he learnt into practice.
Batwawula, who was the best in Busoga region (East) in the 2016 Best Farmers competition, has so far set up three new community development enhancing projects. These include a community grain storage facility and a seed bank, he was also given water for production/irrigation unit by the government – thanks to his status as the best farmer.
“The Dutch inspired me a lot, this is why I decided not to sit on this knowledge,” Batwawula says.
He thus decided to spread this inspiration to the community. He for example started keeping proper farm records, appointed a substantive farm manager, and improved the storage and general post-harvest handling of produce.
At first, Batwawula thought of mobilizing locals to construct the silo, but he dropped the idea because people would think he was duping them.
“I resolved to use my own money so that others follow upon seeing the impact, and here we are, working as a team,” Batwawula says.
The silo is now the focal point of the grain trade in his sub-county because farmers bring their maize produce and store it here.
In 2017, he increased crop production, before constructing the grain silo, which cost sh200m and has the capacity of 75 tonnes of grains, he explains.
The silo is located at his farm in the Nankulyaku-Busoga zone, Northern Division in Kamuli Municipality, Kamuli district.
Before this, Batwawula would transport the maize to the Agro-Ways silos in Jinja city and wait for the market. He had to meet transport costs, user charges for storing the maize and other costs, so he decided to construct his own silo, one of the biggest privately owned facilities in Kamuli district. Locals have directly and indirectly benefitted from the silos, storing the grain while waiting for better prices.
Setting up a co-operative society
After constructing the silo, Batwawula mobilized local farmers in the municipality and beyond to embrace the project by storing their maize there and waiting for the prices to appreciate.
The initiative paid off as medium and big farmers brought their grains, birthing the formation of Nankulyaku Maize Farmers’ Cooperative Society Ltd in 2017.
The season ended in 2019, saw trucks of the World Food Programme (WHO) loading the produce and paying handsome sums in the cooperative’s bank account.
Selling a kilo at sh1,500 attracted more to join the cooperative, whose working capital had risen to sh350m before the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
With 151 farmers (71 male, 80 female) that include the youth, the middle-aged and elderly, the society is now worth sh356m, of which sh32.8m is in savings.
The members harvest their maize, buy more from the community, store it in the silos and wait for big buyers with attractive prices.
According to Batwawula, the buyers include World Food Program (WFP), agro-dealers, seed companies and other prominent institutions who pay between sh1,400 and sh1,800 per kilo, as opposed to sh500 and sh800 per kilogramme that middlemen pay.
“This milestone is not mine only, but the community as well. We only need to put more effort to take the venture to heights,” Batwawula said.
Having embraced best practices like having books of accounts, the cooperative has attracted various development partners. These include Plan Uganda, One Acre Fund, Farm Concern, the Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns, the Micro Finance Centre, the Integrated Sector Development, The World Food Program, National Union of Coffee Agri Business & Farm Enterprises, among others.
“These help us with sensitization in farming best practices and financial management,” he says.
Members are drawn from the northern and southern divisions in Kamuli municipality and the sub-counties of Balawoli, Namasagali, Kagumba Nabwugulu and Butansi.
According to Mathias Bwamiki, who heads the maize department, the cooperative is registered.
The executive is supported by traders/mobilisers, a store manager, a clerk/accountant and community handlers who manage the three clustered groups affiliated to the mother cooperative.
To strengthen, the trust, the system of documenting individuals’ grain contributions is used.
After selling, a meeting convenes to declare the money which is respectively shared however the members are advised to leave some savings which is used as loans at an interest rate of 5% per month. The cooperative, according to Bwamiki, also invested sh49m in buying,
storing and processing coffee.
Packing quality seeds
Having seen what experts at Enza Zaden were doing, Batwawula also initiated value addition in maize and beans seeds he grows on a large scale. After harvest, the seeds are certified by experts from the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD).
After ascertaining the moisture content and hygiene, the seeds are packed in polythene bags pasted with labels for sale, while others are stored in the part of the silo labelled as ‘seed bank’.
“We sell some of the seeds, but also store others in order to preserve the varieties,” he says. Some of the seeds stored include beans and maize.
From the silo and the packaging enterprises, Batwawula said he earns sh80m -sh100m annually, exclusive of the earnings from the banana, coffee, cassava, potatoes and sugarcane enterprises.
Juliet Birungi, the female councillor for Nankulyaku ward in Kamuli Municipality appreciated saying that the approach has impacted the people’s social well-being and economic progress.
“He is not selfish and loves to share wealth,” Birungi, also the Deputy Mayor for Kamuli Municipality said.
Joy Wanyana, the cooperative’s treasurer, says that the cooperative relieved members of the stress of accessing bank loans, whose interest rates are high.
Batwawula confesses without visiting the Netherlands, he would be still glued to the traditional farming methods, keeping him off the millionaires club.
With the Motto, “Agriculture is wealth,” the cooperative aims at ensuring that every household is self-sustained through higher agriculture production and value addition for higher incomes.
Gets irrigation system
Recently, Batwawula got the rare opportunity of being the only farmer in Kamuli district to get the offer of a free irrigation system from Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF).
For two decades, Batwawula has fought the challenge of poor crop yields due to prolonged droughts and climate change.
Efforts to acquire expensive systems at the individual level proved futile, because of the cost.
Worth sh150m, the system which was installed in early 2022 was supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF), in conjunction with the Kamuli district Production and Marketing department.
Beaming, Batwawula said, “I have yearned for it for two decades now. With this, I shall no longer be poor. Besides irrigating the banana and coffee shambas, I will maximally utilise the water for other innovations,” he said. The system also provides clean water to the community.
The system uses 4,000 watts of solar panels to power the water pump, which pushes the water to the overhead tank before it is distributed to the metallic and plastic pipes snaking through the 5 acres of bananas intercropped with coffee. At one end, there are three water taps that the community use to get water.
According to Richard Musenero, the District Production Officer, Batwawula was selected because of hard work, commitment, consistency and love for farming.
“He is passionate about farming and has shown accountability. He has single-handedly struggled for many years, this is why he got the offer,” Musenero said.
Batwawula says that he got the system without any strings attached, but because he is a best farmer and lead farmer in the community.
With the system, Batwawula said that his harvests are set to double.
“I have been harvesting 5kilos of processed coffee from each tree, and 50 bunches of bananas per week. With the system, production shall rise 10 kilos and 100 bunches respectively,” he said.
Besides the commitment, Batwawula hailed Vision Group for putting him in the limelight, adding that the system shall also water the livestock and poultry projects.
He is planning to purchase more plastic pipes and sprinklers in a bid to expand coverage of irrigating 7-10 acres.
The system, according to Musenero, has the capacity to water 10 acres. Batwawula is tasked with buying more pipes and sprinklers to expand coverage from the 2.5 acres to 8-10.
Batwawula’s started in the 1990s tilling half an acre of land he inherited from his father.
With time, he started hiring other pieces of land around the village, selling the harvests and saving the money, whilst rearing local chicken, goats and ducks.
By 2000, the livestock had multiplied.
He sold most of the goats and bought a cow, which he sold after three years and bought the first piece of land.
By 2006, he bought five acres to establish two banana and coffee shambas, on which he added pineapples and passion fruits.
Today, he has over 60 acres. In 2009, he joined the NAADS programme, turning him into a model farmer who attracted President Museveni’s visit in 2011. The Head of state donated sh5m cash and a pick-up truck.
What others say
Fiida Tyabiwulira, the junior wife, was all smiles because the silo is located in her compound.
‘The silo and the incoming Kamuli industrial park mean a lot to me. Thank God, our patience and hard work have paid off,” she said.
Charles Mugoowa, the Director of Yebazibwe Farmers Center in Kamuli Municipality, urged upcoming farmers to emulate Batwawula in order to elevate their farms to heights.
Norah Mugoya, a farmer in Kamuli said; “When I see how far Balitwawula has come, it gives me the courage to continue on my farming journey. He is not selfish with knowledge and this is why he is an inspiration to us,”