By Emmanuel Ssekaggo
For the eighth year running, Vision Group, together with the Embassy of the Netherlands, KLM Airlines, dfcu Bank and Koudjis Animal Nutrition, is running the Best Farmers competition. The 2023 competition will run from March to November, with the awards in December. Every week, Vision Group platforms will publish profiles of the farmers. Winners will walk away with sh150m and a fully paid-for trip to the Netherlands.
When you engage in maize farming and focus on value addition, not only do you get high returns, but also empower the community.
This is the philosophy that drives Joseph Kato, a farmer in Kasaali village, Buwama town council in Mpigi district. The 45-year-old is a mixed farmer that grows maize, bananas, ginger, as well as keeping pigs and dairy cows that provide both milk and manure for the gardens.
Maize is his main enterprise. He has grown it for 12 years on 60 acres. His piggery started with three pigs — two sows and one boar that he bought at sh600,000 each. The enterprise now boasts over 60 pigs.
Kato started with growing tomatoes whose proceeds he saved until he had enough to buy a maize mill. In 2010, he acquired a mill and started buying maize from other farmers to process it into flour.
“Unfortunately, the quality of the maize that I bought was poor and did not give me the expected yield. My clients complained about the quality,” he says.
Since his mind was made up about value addition, Kato started growing his own maize to ensure quality. He grew it on 20 acres in the first season.
“I used more than sh20m, that is, sh1m per acre,” he says.
Today, he has 60 acres under the enterprise, although not all of them are in one place.
Kato never sells any of his maize raw, but mills it into flour and animal feeds through his company Kasaali Maize Millers.
He then sells it to the community and other markets. Kato’s market for maize flour is schools, prisons and hospitals because their main food is posho.
He makes the livestock feeds from the by-products after milling flour.
“From maize growing and milling, in a good season, the profit is sh400,000 per acre. For example, last season I grew 60 acres of maize, I got sh24m as profits from maize only,” Kato says.
He says he re-invests the profits back into the farm.
Adhering to recommended spacing, Kato emphasises, helps guard against losses.
“I dig holes in the space of one-and-a-half feet from hole to hole and also, I insert in two seeds. When I plant like that and also carry out other good practices of farming like weeding in time, applying fertilisers, I end up getting good yields every season,” he says.
Maize should be harvested only when it is mature and should not be left in the garden long after that, Kato advises.
“I harvest my maize when it has dried. I put the harvest on a tarpaulin to keep it clean.”
Kato has two maize shellers to remove the grains from the cob before it is taken for milling.
He says while some farmers believe it is impossible to grow a certain crop like maize in the same area for a long period of time, this is not true.
“There are some pieces of land that I have been using since I started farming. Given the challenges with land, it is hard for us to leave our garden to rest. However, to sustain productivity, we apply fertiliser every season,” Kato says.
In the same way, if you want to continue harvesting good produce from a piece of land, one can use a tractor to dig deep.
“That is why I bought a tractor that I use in gardens,” he says.
The farm also employs technology. For example, to determine land acreage, Kato uses a phone app, whereby he simply walks around the farm to gauge its size.
“Therefore, a worker cannot deceive me about the size of the garden,” he says.
Kato grows maize all year round because he has water sources near his farms.
“I use the pumps to draw water from the swamps to irrigate my crops,” he says. Kato explains that he set up the system in 2019 and it cost sh12m.
“My request to the Government is to reduce the taxes on agricultural products like irrigation kits so that they are affordable to farmers,” he says.
Kato employs at least 20 people every day on his various enterprises. The enterprise has both permanent and casual workers.
The permanent workers include those that operate the four maize milling machines, those that look after the livestock, cashier, the security guard and two motorcycle riders that deliver the flour to customers.
Kato pays this last category not less than sh150,000 per month. The other workers include drivers for the farm cars and tractor.
“I pay the car drivers sh300,000 per month. The tractor driver earns sh30,000 for every acre ploughed,” he says.
During harvesting and planting time, Kato hires more than 40 casual workers, who are paid according to tasks done. The workers are sourced from the community.
“I train whoever is hired to work in the maize mill on how the machines operate. I also train those who carry out the harvesting and packaging,” Kato says.
He, however, says sometimes training a worker is not easy. Keeping them at the farm after training is even more challenging.
“Those who are trained and well experienced like drivers are provided with a favourable environment so that they don’t run away from me. This is done by making sure that they are paid on time and I also listen to their issues,” he says.
Kato uses one of the farm trucks to collect maize from other farmers, while the second one mostly transports workers to different gardens to work.
When dealing in food, it is important to employ the best practices.
“I do this starting from harvest time where I pick only ‘mature’ maize; using tarpaulins while harvesting and also to mill it when it is very dry,” Kato says.
When it comes to packaging, he uses the recommended sacks to ensure a long shelf life for the flour. For security, Kato has a guard who makes sure that all the farm equipment is safe.
Kato’s greatest achievement thus far is buying more land to expand his enterprises.
“However, I still rent some land for my activities,” he says.
Kato now has six mills. Every new mill allows him to employ more community members.
“In the beginning, I also had no tractor or cars for the farm. Today, I have a tractor and two trucks for the farm, two motorcycles and other assets,” he says.
Like most farmers in the country, Kato’s main challenge is climate change.
“These days, we experience prolonged dry spells. Rain is no longer moderate, it is heavy; affecting the crops,” he says.
Kato practices irrigation on some of his gardens during the dry season. Some agricultural inputs like pesticides and fertilisers are fake.
“I try to avoid such problems by buying them from known suppliers, so that if I get a problem, I can go back and report,” he says.
“I am done with the construction of a new and bigger building where I am going to install two more maize mills,” Kato says.
In the same premises, he dreams of setting up a modern store for safe storage of the maize grain.
“My dream is to feed as many people as possible and also to expand my market from Uganda to the rest of East Africa,” he says.
What others say
John Ssekayita, worker I have worked with Kato on his farm for a while. Kato pays us on time. I have a family and the money from Kato’s farm helps me cover the family needs.
Charles Busuulwa, community member Many of the youth of Buwama town council have benefited from Kato’s farm. They work in gardens, others are drivers, while some work at the mills. I got a job at the farm and I have been able to buy a plot of land.
Jackson Othieno, community member People who have worked with Kato have learnt a lot from him like being hardworking, respecting workers and the relevance of bookkeeping. We hope to become rich like him in future.
Family involvement, social impact
Kato’s wife, Agatha Mukasa Namazzi, is part of the farm management.
She does this alongside her formal job.
“In case I am absent, she can manage and supervise the work very well,” Kato says. During school holidays, the children help with farm activities.
“I make sure that I show them where the money comes from. I teach the children how to work and I think they can ably succeed me,” Kato says.
Namazzi prides herself in the employment opportunities the farm has provided community members.
“For example, we employ many people like mothers and they use the money that we pay them to get their basic needs.”
The products the farm provides, Namazzi says, are of good quality and thus community members do not have to travel far to access them.