By Moses Nampala
Stephen Chemonges is restless. His phone is ringing off the hook. Caller after another are all seeking for his attention.
“These are my clients making orders for seed,” he observes with a hearty chuckle.
Fifty-five-year-old Chemonges from Teryet-Rwot sub-county in Kapchorwa district, is a certified producer and supplier of quality potato seed.
Potato (Irish) is among the traditional crops grown here. In the past, native farming community grew food security. However, when demand for the food crop shot up, the scale on which it was grown did as well.
Today, potato occupies a prime position on the list of cash crops produced by the native farmer community in Sebei sub-region, eastern Uganda.
The predominantly hilly region is part of the belt surrounding Mount Elgon, constituting the districts of Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo.
Potato seed material enterprise
The enterprise of growing potato seed is the most recent and highest income-generating on his farm.
Embracing the idea of enterprise dates back to 2016, although actual production began in 2018.
When International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC), a Netherlands farmer support agency in 2016 went out to search for an individual farmer in Sebei it could work with to promote potato production, Chemonges was the only farmer who stepped forward.
There were many potential individual farmers that would have grabbed the opportunity, but turned it down because of the project terms that they deemed to be stringent.
“One of the project conditions that I met was having enough land that had to be exclusively committed for facilitating seed multiplication,” he explains.
Chemonges also had to commit a substantive amount of money to facilitate construction of the necessary infrastructure. The most critical ones included construction of an expansive screen house and seed material storage facility.
How seed material is produced
Production of seed material is a long and rigorous process.
“It takes a breeding cycle of 18 months before production of the seed material can be realised,” Chemonges explains.
He and his wife, Patricia are engaged in production of two varieties of potato seed — Kinika and Rwangume.
Although the varieties are exotic, they have been bred by scientist to suit Ugandan conditions. Apart from responding well with most weather conditions across the country, the varieties are resilient and high-yielding.
In Uganda, the initial breeding seedlings are from National Agricultural Research Institute (NARO) research station in Kachwekano, Kabale district.
Chemonges explains that the process of making potato seed begins with a certified community producer and supplier, like him, making an order for Irish potato seedlings from NARO.
Each of the seedlings goes for sh1,000. He usually orders for 3,000-5,000 seedlings.
When the seedlings have been delivered, Chemonges gets virgin ground/holding health/ fertile soil (preferably forest like places) from where he scoops it into sacks and carries back home.
Irish potato seed material worth their name are planted only when the tubers have developed signs of sprouting. Irish potato seed begin to develop visible sprouting signs after three months, from the time the tuber seed are harvested.
“Premature planting won’t yield germination,” Chemonges cautions.
Potato seed material
Irish potato seed materials come in tuber-form, which essentially makes the seeds material to be bulky in nature.
The seed material is measured in terms of sacks, weighing 100kg. For instance, an acre of potates requires two sacks ofseed material. A sack ofseed materials goes for sh150,000.
“During peak months, my weekly sale-scale staggers between 300 and 500 bags, while the rest of the months it is averagely between 30 70 bags,” he explains.
The seed multiplication enterprise is rolled out on 14 acres, out ofthe 45-acre land parcel the couple owns.
Although Chemonges has since elevated his social status to become a certified Irish potato seed producer and supplier, he did not abandon the other enterprises he was engaged in.
“I still grow potatoes on a commercial scale,” he stresses.
His other farming enterprises include vegetables, cabbage growing and dairy farming, with a current cross-breed stock of 25 animals.
Irish potato enterprise
Irish potato growing is one of his oldest economic enterprises, which for years, he has grown on 10 acres.
Chemonges is privileged to be a producer and supplier of potato seed material. Access to quality potato seed material has perennially given him pleasing yields.
“When the weather is good, I averagely reap 100 bags from an acre,” he says.
Chemonges average harvest during bad season is 60 bags. A bag of Irish potato is usually100kg. The farm gate price of a bag ranges between sh80,000 and sh100,000. Usually, traders in the crop trace the couple from their home when they need business.
The couple grows cabbage on two acres. Given that they are privileged to live in a predominantly hilly countryside endowed with multiple natural streams, cabbage is usually grown during the dry season.
They use water from streams in their vicinity to irrigate. The enterprise fetches sh3m-sh4m per season. Like potatoes, traders come to the couple’s home whenever there is business.
Dairy cow enterprise
The dairy enterprise is an income generating source the couple has built of the years. The varieties of the animals of their dairy livestock enterprise are cross-breed animals.
Out of the 25 dairy cows, seven are currently lactating. According to Patricia, apportioning part of their energy and time on the enterprise is aimed at building a strong financial infrastructure of their household.
“We have a host of pressing issues that need money, which explains why we keep on embracing new income generating enterprises,” she explains.
The current milk production is about 20 litres per day.
“We regularly sell 15 litres and only spare five litres for home consumption,” Patricia adds.
At a farm gate price of sh1,400 a litre, the couple gets sh21,000. Milk is regularly ferried to Kapchorwa town where it is sold.
Establishment of an Irish potato seed multiplication centre is a big relief to the Chemonges and the entire Irish potato farmer community in Sebei sub-region.
In the past, the farming community here largely relied on informal recycling method for seeds.
“We used to collect the leftover tubers of the previous harvest and use it as planting material,” Patricia says.
The trait of using inferior seed material had started to heavily haunt majority of farmers in Sebei region, as they did not have means to obtain quality seed material.
“The quality of our yields increasingly would become poorer as the size of Irish potato tuber would get smaller and every other season, we were losing market of our produce,” Chemonges adds.
The couple that initially only had three acres, have since increased it to 45. They have since bought two commercial trucks that currently fetch them substantial income.
They have constructed commercial premises in prime business areas around Kapchorwa. At home, the couple is constructing a decent house.
Who is chemonges?
Born 55 years ago to Sumotwo Chemunungwa and Kokop Chekwech of Tutungon, Teryet-Rwot sub-county in Kapchorwa district, Chemonges is third in a family of seven children.
The furthest he ever went in acquiring formal education was Primary Three. For as long he could remember, farming has been the only chore he has done a living.
Over the years, he would engage in growing a variety of vegetables and potatoes.
“I have grown up admiring successful village mates. When I learnt that they now live a decent life because of -f-1 hard work, I learnt to consolidate z all my energy, spending more time in the field. My life has since ‘ changed for the better,” Chemonges said.
He is married to Patricia and the couple has 10 children.
Although the Sebei sub-region has Kinika and Rwangume Irish potato seed material in plenty, there is a section of consumers in urban areas feel they have been left out.
“A sizeable proportion of traders are constantly pestering us for white coloured varieties of Irish potato. They claim the variety, now grown by Irish potato farmer community in neighbouring Kenya, make a sumptuous chips recipe,” Chemonges said.
As a commercial potato farmer, he says he is not immune from market fluctuations.
“Today, a dealer comes at your farmer paying you a farm gate price of sh100,000 per 100kg sack, the next day he will pay you sh60,000, saying the market is flooded with.
What others say
Joseph Mashandich, 61, resident
Chemonges bails us out with soft loans when we need money to prepare our farms.
Gilbert Kibet, 45, close friend
I have seen the couple beginning from scratch, and through hard work, their life has turned around.
Nusura Chelangat, 54, neighbour
Whenever my children are chased from school over tuition, the couple bails me out. They are generous people.
Annet Chemusto, 43, neighbour
We started getting financial stability after we emulated the Chemonges’ style of embracing multiple income-generating enterprises.