Fred Ojok, 27, could not hold back his happiness as he narrates how coffee and banana farming has transformed his life and family.
“Because of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency that caused unrest in northern Uganda, we had to run away for safety to Gulu town. Because our father did not have a stable income, we could not continue with education and life become so complicated,” Ojok says.
Upon completing Senior Six in 2013, Ojok looked for what he could do that would give him money to transform his life and that of his family. They established the Nwoya-Waneno Anyim farm with the vision of influencing northern Uganda and fully involving youth to join coffee farming as a business.
“I thought farming would be the best alternative for a youth without money who wanted to venture into businesses that required huge amounts of initial capital. Given the fact that we had our family abandoned land here at Lalar village, Alero subcounty in Nwoya district, it became easy for us to venture into farming,” he narrates.
On the visitation of the land, Ojok and his elder brother, Denis Onen, the found a well-established coffee farm that blew their minds away and they picked interest in coffee. As they looked around for ways of acquiring seedlings, they were advised to reach out to Operation Wealth Creations (OWC) officials, who gave them free coffee seedlings in 2015.
“We had planted sugarcane in another area in Gulu that we sold at sh400,000. We used this money to clear the land because it was a bushy. We employed some youth who helped us slash the area. We were taken through the best practices of planting of coffee and after digging the holes, we were given 900 seedlings that we planted on two acres,” Ojok says.
The farm has since grown in size to the current 18 acres and quality.
They are also now one of the nursery operators working in partnership with OWC, as well as training other farmers in coffee growing and management for quality harvest.
Ojok says they are committed to becoming one of the greatest coffee farmers in the northern region as they plan to have 25 acres planted with coffee. They also want to promote coffee growing in the region as well as value addition to command a higher price to make the crop more profitable to farmers.
Coffee is profitable
It has been perceived that coffee does not do well in the north, but Ojok and his family are proving this narrative wrong. Ojok and his family are already reaping big from the crop and more farmers in the region are taking up coffee growing as one of their income-generating ventures.
“From our fist harvest in 2019, we earned sh800,000 and sh2m from the second harvest. Last year, we earned sh8m and are optimistic to harvest more this year. For the past years, we have seen transformation in our lives,” Onen says.
He advises people, especially the youth, to engage in growing cash crops such as coffee because the indigenous crops are no longer viable and profitable. Farming in the northern region has been mainly for food production, which has kept the people and the region in a vicious cycle of poverty.
Onen appeals to the Government to consider establishing a coffee processing factory to enable them add value to their coffee. They are selling a kilogramme of unprocessed (kiboko) coffee at shs2,000, which is still little compared to other regions.
“Many people think Operation Wealth Creation activities are a waste of time. But those are the ones who have never taken part and are always opposing government programmes. I ask them to embrace the activities because we also never thought a day would come when one of us could earn sh1m of their own,” he explains.
In addition to coffee, Onen also grows matooke on one acre from which he harvests 50 bunches a month, each going for shs10,000, and two acres of pineapples from which he harvests twice a week. He gets 50 fruits from each harvest and sells a fruit at sh3,000 each.
Ojok and Onen now own a tricycle and a Bajaj motorcycle for transportation, can afford good food as well as taking their children to good schools.
Govt to popularise coffee, matooke in north
Lt Col Alfred Olaka, the OWC co-ordinator for Nwoya district, says the Government has plans of promoting coffee and matooke growing in the northern region since the two have proved to be productive and profitable for the region.
“We have come to realise that coffee and matooke can be the transforming crops for the Nwoya and Acholi region as a whole since farmers would rather instead eat the inputs such as maize, beans, groundnuts given to them,” he says.
Olaka explains that for now, they have given out over 2 million coffee seedlings in Nwoya district and there are now farmers with over 20 acres of coffee. Coffee has now become a viable crop that many people are picking interest into.