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Former Banker Turns Seedling Multiplier

by Wangah Wanyama
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By Priscillar Nyamahunge

Geoffrey Kagoro, 47, was just in P7 when a sudden urge to become an independent commercial farmer and investor popped up in his mind.

“I was travelling from Kampala and I saw a billboard with a very good looking young man posing with good assets and there lied a caption; retired at 40,” Kagoro said. “Since then, I planned that I would retire at 45 in case I became a civil servant,” he added.

Born to Teddy and Jos Wamara of Ntooma village, Bwijanga sub-county,  Kagoro went to Masindi Public school for primary, Kabalega SS (Masindi) and St. Leo’s Kyegobe in Fort Portal for his O and A’level respectively, before joining Uganda College of Commerce (UCC), Aduku in 1996 where he pursued a higher diploma in marketing.

He would later pursue a Bachelors of Commerce in 2000, a Post-graduate diploma in Project  Planning and management in 2006 and later a Masters of Business Administration, all at Makerere University.

Kagoro, who previously worked with Stanbic, Barclays and Equity banks, decided to venture into commercial farming in 2016 and is now the proprietor of JOWATE  plants and nursery and JOWATE mixed farm,  all located in Ntooma,  about 40kms out of Masindi town.

Kagoro checking on his coffee

 “I used to do subsistence farming but I thought it would be better to go commercial. I had saved about sh50m and I started off  with horticulture and fish farming but unfortunately, getting market, especially for tomatoes, was hard and yet they were perishing, and then I also tonned down on fish too,” Kagoro said.

The farm has 21 ponds and the main species that are reared are tilapia and cat fish.

Married to Agnes Kagoro, the two have four children, with the oldest having completed university this year and the youngest in P2.

“My son has been pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Economics and he is the one in charge of finances at the farm,” Kagoro said.

Kagoro said he got in touch with the Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) in the second season of 2016 which eventually led to the genesis of coffee seedling multiplication in 2017.

“In 2018, I made a visit to Kenya because someone had got me interested me in Macadamia. I later made  a visit to Kyenjojo district at the Royal Plants farm and bought seedlings for about two acres but unfortunately, the yield was so poor,” he said.

Kagoro realised it was expensive to keep buying seedlings of Macadamia and decided to venture into its multiplication as well before adding on Hass avocado in 2019.

“Right now, JOWATE is majorly known for Macadamia, Hass avocado and clonal coffee. We have vans, motorcycles, and trucks for delivery. Therefore, we have built a base of customers to as far as the north, West Nile, West and central parts of Uganda. In Bunyoro however, we have a very small client base,” he said.

Future plans

“My ultimate goal is to invest in agro-tourism. I would like to build cottages, set up gardens and make a recreation centre. I will set up a mini-hotel fully set up with all the necessary facilities such that visitors can feel comfortable when they come around,” he said.

Kagoro said he has started making money from farm visits but a lot of effort is still needed saying the community needs to be actively involved.

“Maybe some have not yet appreciated that farming has many returns or maybe they are thinking of traditional crops like maize, beans, potatoes, yet we should now be looking at the bigger picture. As long as people have not yet appreciated this business, then we shall remain behind,” he said.

 “I also plan to put up an institute to do skilling of workers such that people can always pick from there instead of targeting mine at the farm. We take time to train them but some people are always targeting them,” he said.

Workers tending to seedlings

Labour

Kagoro sources his workers from different places of the country including but not limited to; Rukungiri, Kabale, Gulu, Lira, Kibaale and Masindi.

“We realised that getting workers from one region sometimes leads to poor productivity because they (workers) tend to create a bond and some start cacooning instead of doing work. We therefore resorted to mixing them,” he said.

Kagoro says their workers usually have a tight work schedule to follow and it requires commitment.

“Our work schedule starts at 7am through 6pm. We provide them with break tea and lunch while at work. It’s only supper that they make for themselves,”

Apparently, he rents for his workers in the nearest trading centre.

“We do that to reduce on risks of people missing out on work because of distance,” he said.

Costs

Kagoro said most clients buy coffee seedlings and that helps them to keep afloat. Each seedling of clonal coffee goes for sh1,500 while that of elite goes for sh500. Meanwhile, a tree seedling for Macadamia goes sh10,000 while that of Hass avocado goes for sh7,000.

“Monthly returns are not certain and they vary from one season to another. However, I spend sh6m on farm operations, sh6m on salaries and wages and sh200,000 on accommodation hire for them (workers),” he said.

Technology

“We’ve been irrigating with pumps since 2016. However, we have now procured a solar system going for about sh45m including the tanks, piping, and installation.”

Market

“I have done a lot of marketing using social media and social capital. Most recently, I also did some radio programmes. Most of the people who buy the seedlings are not from Masindi,” Kagoro said.

Appeal;           

Kagoro says his wish is to see the community actively involved in commercial agriculture.

“This community is dominant with sugarcane farmers but it would be good if people engaged in other money making ventures such as seedling multiplication as they wait to reap from cane returns,” he said.

He said before the year ends, he is going to sponsor a study trip for about 20 farmers from the community to go to Kenya and learn about avocado and Macademia growing.

“On return, I will give seedlings to all those who have never bought from me such that they can go and try it out,” he said.

Challenges

Financial constraints are a challenge which Kagoro said limit them from carrying out different activities such as trainings for the local community.

“We have a challenge of people buying into the vision of this project. Some are not patient and want quick returns,” he said.

Kagoro said the market base is also not certain hence the need to do vigorous marketing on different platforms.

What others say;

Sharon Atworo;

“We usually guide clients on what needs to be done when planting seedlings. I have been working at JOWATE for a month now but my skills are getting better because I’m practising what I learned from school but I’m also learning from experienced people too.”

Albert Tumusiime, son to the proprietor;

“I ensure that I do daily monitoring of the farm operations especially when my dad is not around because some workers tend to be reluctant when left alone and effectiveness may not be realised.”

John Basanya, manager JOWATE farm;

“I call upon government to come up with policies and programmes that are favourable to farmers. Some farmers acquire loans in order to add inputs on their farms after getting assurance that government will procure their products. Unfortunately, some of those programmes are never implemented fully ad some farmers miss out.”

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