Sunday, June 16, 2024
Home Change Makers How Modern Farming Made Tumwine Excel

How Modern Farming Made Tumwine Excel

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Stephen Nuwagira

Venansio Tumwine, 56, was born into a family of traditional peasant farmers who reared a few goats and cattle.

 They also grew crops on a small scale. By the time he graduated from university with a bachelor’s in agriculture, nothing much had changed.

“I vowed that I would not be a ‘book agriculturist’, but a practitioner,” he says.

However, he never took any practical steps toward this goal. He was practising farming as any other peasant in Kabingo village, Rukiri sub-county in Ibanda district, until eight years ago when he embarked on commercial banana and coffee production.

His resolve to go commercial and practice modern farming is beginning to pay off.

In February, Tumwine, a PhD candidate at Uganda Martyrs University and father of two, was announced the winner of the Ibanda district farmers’ competition that attracted model and commercial farmers from across the district.

Whenever he is in the village, he is the community’s to-go-to person.

He is also the brains behind the Buzimba Mixed Farmers’ Association, a community think-tank on agriculture and farmer-to-farmer extension group.

Currently, Tumwine practices mixed farming — banana and coffee production, dairy farming and apiary — under his firm, Muntu Agro Enterprises Limited.

With the goal of becoming the dairy breeder and improved pasture producer in the district, Tumwine made dairy farming the lead enterprise.

The agripreneur-cum-researcher bags an estimated sh32m in gross earnings annually from the four enterprises.

Starting out

Tumwine was somewhat embarrassed that he practised the peasant type of farming despite being trained in agriculture. This pushed him to ‘practice what he preached’ by embracing modern farming.

He started by improving his small banana plantation through commercial variety selection, proper spacing and giving consideration to the soil and water. He also applied manure and mulched the plantation.

Tumwine says he took the decision eight years ago and that it has boosted the crop’s production.

From just over a quarter of an acre, Tumwine now boasts a full one of the banana plantation.

He sells over 350 big-size bunches of bananas each year. On average, a bunch of bananas goes for sh20,000 in Rukiri. This fetches him about sh7m as gross income per year.

“I invest about sh2.2m in the plantation annually to buy organic manure, mulch and pay workers, among other things,” Tumwine explains.

Coffee

Tumwine applied the proper crop husbandry practice in the coffee enterprise at almost the same time he did on commercial banana growing.

He focused on Arabica coffee and later included Robusta. Each type of coffee is growing on an acre. Traditionally, an acre accommodates about 500 trees of coffee.

Tumwine says annually, Arabica coffee brings in about sh8.7m earnings and the Robusta, sh12m.

He says caring for the coffee and other related expenses account for sh4.5m annually. The yield per year is estimated at 1,000kg.

A kilogramme of Arabica coffee costs sh8,700 on average, fetching the farmer a gross income of sh8.7m. Tumwine says he gets about 1,200kg of Robusta coffee per annum, each going for sh7,000 in Rukiri.

This brings in a gross income of sh8.4m.

Tumwine sells his coffee at the local factory in Rukiri trading centre.

Dairy production

Commercial dairy production is the lead enterprise at the farm. Initiated six years ago, the enterprise brings in over sh8m in total income annually.

The farmer says he prioritises dairy production because it gives him income daily. Initially, Tumwine had two low-grade cross-breed cows.

He says: “I started selection and cross-breeding through artificial insemination (AI) using conventional or non-sexed semen to serve the two cows.

“Both produced bull calves. I resorted to sexed semen to get heifers since my target was dairy farming. The two produced heifers the next round. The two heifers were served using AI with sexed semen; one at 18 months and the other at 20. They both produced heifers.”

He notes that the first cross-breed offsprings give him eight litres of milk each, “I expect that by the third level of cross-breeding, those offsprings will produce between 15 and 20 litres of milk,” Tumwine, who also works with the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Fort Portal as a research officer (crop entomology), says.

He has Friesian and Jersey cows, but is looking to focus on the latter, explaining that “they don’t consume a lot or age quickly like the Friesians”.

However, he says the Friesians are better milk producers. Presently, Tumwine has 21 head of cattle, including cows, heifers, calves and a bull.

The dairy unit is on seven acres, three of which are dedicated to growing pasture.

Four acres are paddocked for grazing on free range, which is the main method of feeding animals at Tumwine’s farm.

Seed bank

Last year, Tumwine established a pasture seed bank on a quarter of an acre for both local and improved pasture species. It comprises grasses, legumes and fodder varieties.

He says he expects the bank to ease access to seeds, which is currently a challenge among farmers, besides the high cost involved to buy them.

“Students of agriculture will access pasture specimens for practical studies. The bank will also support expansion of the dairy unit,” he says.

Why enterprise mix

On why he chose mixed farming, Tumwine says unstable prices of agricultural produce forced him to.

“The enterprise mix cushions me in case one unit is not doing well. The approach has paid dividends as the enterprises support each other. For instance, manure from the animals is applied in the banana and coffee plantations. Coffee husks are used as manure for the pasture, boosting foliage production,” he adds.

Acquiring knowledge

Tumwine says the extension workers have been instrumental in guiding him.

He also gains knowledge from the Buzimba Mixed Farmers’ Association, a group he helped to form, with the aim of promoting farmer-to-farmer extension services and learning.

“We meet monthly at a member’s farm to share information, knowledge and experiences,” he said.

The meetings are usually attended by an extension staff. The farmer also researches and reads about dairy farming online and in the Harvest Money pullout.

Bio, physical security

All the workers at the farm have protective gear to check infections that could affect the animals.

He also restricts entry to the farm by intruders using a wire fence.

People who come for training always have to wear protective gear and are restricted from trespassing outside the training area.

Challenges

Tumwine says the cost of AI is still high in Ibanda for sexed semen (sh160,000) per service and about sh70,000 for the conventional one each time a cow is served.

Tumwine says he almost abandoned dairy farming, but for the love of cattle, he soldiers on.

Fake and substandard drugs, acaricides and chemicals also cause him losses and expose the animals and plants to diseases and pests.

The farmer says it is difficult to get reliable employees. He boosts the workers’ morale by giving them milk and food.

He adds that the bad road from Ibanda town to Rukiri also affects his market.

Records for sustainability

The agripreneur says record-keeping has helped to track production levels of the four enterprises, enabling him to intervene in a timely manner and strategically.

Some of the records at Tumwine’s farm include the health status of the animals, their treatment, breeding schedule, semen type, expected dates of delivery and type of calf.

Production records show the daily output per cow and the litres of milk delivered at the dairy and those sold to the community.

Financial records include workers’ pay, income and other expenses (cost of drugs and chemicals, manure, feeds, pasture seeds) and for extension support services.

Other innovations

Tumwine manages banana weevils and vegetable pests ecologically using the Tephrosia vogelii leaf extract which is mixed with wood ash and soapy water from bar soap.

“Soapy water is added to prolong shelf life of biochemicals in the plant extract because they lose potency when exposed to sunshine,” he explains.

Environment management

Part of Tumwine’s farm is a swamp. However, he has not constructed channels to drain the wetland.

“I cut grass from the swamp periodically to mulch my banana and coffee plantations. I have also built ponds from where we get water for the animals,” he says.

He conserves soil and water by digging trenches and grows napier on heaped soils to check erosion.

Grass bands in the banana plantation serve the same purpose. The farm has different tree species, including fruit trees, like avocado, guava, jack fruit and mangoes.

Success tips

Ponsiano Tibaingana, an assistant veterinary officer and district AI technician who has worked with Tumwine for five years, attributes the farmer’s success to “his willingness to learn and follow guidance from extension workers”.

“He also has good farm management systems and is present at the farm. This has helped him to make timely interventions to avoid losses,” he notes.

Tibaingana says Tumwine is good at record keeping, which helps him to keep tabs on all farm operations.

Mistakes

Initially, to serve cows, Tumwine used bulls, whose pedigree was unknown.

“Just because they were black and white like Friesian cattle, I thought they were of high quality and that I was improving my herd.

“However, as I learnt later, it was just ‘crossing colours’ not pedigree.”

For a dairy farmer, that was a big mistake because chances are that you will get a low-grade animal. That is why I switched to artificial insemination,” he says.

Beekeeping

The apiary project was initiated about eight years ago when the farmer bought 50 local hives, 35 of which were colonised within one year.

He introduced the Kenya Top Bar (KTB) modern hives three years later. Currently, he has 20 local and eight KTB hives that are all colonised.

Venansio Tumwine, a mixed farmer, processes, packages and markets the honey at his cottage industry. In a good season, he harvests 80-120 litres of honey. The cost ranges between sh6,000 and sh450,000, depending on quantity. He has a ready market in Rukiri and Ibanda towns.

Earnings and expenses

Venansio Tumwine, a mixed farming practitioner, gets 500 litres of milk each month, with each going for about sh1,000 on average.

He sells the milk to bulk buyers while the remainder is bought by the community. The farmer pockets a net income of sh6m from milk sales each year.

“However, I would have got at least one heifer being produced during the year. If I sell it at seven months, that’s about sh2m,” he says.

He notes that an in-calf cow costs sh4m each, while cows that are not pregnant fetch sh2.5m each on average. Oxen that are a year-and-a-half will bring in sh2.5m each.

When Tumwine switched to modern dairy production, he embarked on growing improved and local pasture.

He grows several types of pasture, fodder and legumes, which he feeds to the cattle.

He notes that silage, hay, maize bran or feed concentrates are mainly for milking cows, especially during the dry spells.

“When I started giving the cows extra feeds, the milk production increased. For instance, one cow would give five litres, but now we get 10,” he says.

Tumwine says he embraced modern practices because he lacks a large expanse of land. The farmer says he sells off cattle that are less productive to manage costs.

Family involvement

Esther Ainembabazi, 21, Tumwine’s daughter and in Senior Six holidays, is the eyes and ears whenever her father is at his work station in Fort Portal.

“I know the feeding rations for the animals and I can detect a sick cow,” she says.

Ainembabazi, who at times delivers the milk to the dairy centre, got the farming bug during the COVID-19 lockdown and has never looked back.

“I am involved during the harvest of pasture and when the workers are making silage, hay or mixing other cattle feeds,” she says.

Ainembabazi encourages the youth to embrace agribusiness for steady income “since people have to eat”.

Tumwine’s wife, Hellen Mutenyo, works away from home at Mbarara Stock Farm.

She is mainly involved in the coffee and banana enterprises whenever she is home.

Mutenyo says she participates in the planting of pasture and manages the family’s mango plantation.

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