By Stephen Nuwagira
Venansio Tumwine was born into a family of traditional peasant farmers, who reared a few goats and head of cattle and grew crops on a small scale. By the time he graduated from university with a BSc 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 and was farming as any other peasant in Kabingo village, Rukiri sub-county in Ibanda South County until eight years ago when embarked on commercial banana and coffee production. His resolve to “go commercial and modern farming” is beginning to pay off.
In February, Tumwine was announced the winner of the Ibanda district farmers’ competition that attracted model and commercial farmers from across the district.
He is the community’s go-to person whenever he is in the village. He is also the brains behind the Buzimba Mixed Farmers’ Association, a community think tank on agriculture and farmer-to-farmer extension group. The farmer presently practices mixed farming – banana and coffee production, dairy farming and apiary under his firm, Muntu Agro Enterprises Limited.
Dairy farming is the lead enterprise with Tumwine looking to become a dairy breeder and improved pasture producer in the district. The agripreneur cum researcher bags an estimated sh32m in gross earnings annually from the four enterprises.
Tumwine was somewhat embarrassed that he practiced peasant type of farming despite being trained in agriculture. This pushed him to “practice what he preached” by embracing modern practices. He started by improving his small banana plantation through commercial variety selection, proper spacing, and soil and water impoverishment by applying manure and mulching the plantation. He explains that he took the decision eight years ago and which boosted the crop’s production.
From just over a quarter of an acre of land under bananas, Tumwine now boasts of an acre for the crop. He sells over 350 big-sized bunches of bananas from the plantation each year, bringing in sh7m as gross income a year or about sh4.8m net earnings.
“I invest about sh2.2m in the plantation annually to buy organic manure, mulches and pay workers, among others,” explains the Muntu Agro Enterprises proprietor. On average, a bunch of bananas goes for sh20,000 in Rukiri.
Tumwine started using proper crop husbandry practice in the coffee enterprise almost at the same time he embarked on commercial banana growing, focusing on Arabica coffee and later included robusta. Each of the coffee varieties occupies an acre of land.
“I started observing recommended agronomical practices, including proper pruning, establishing shade trees, as well as soil and water management. I use cow dung to manure the plantations and also mulch them which have helped to improve coffee output,” he says. Traditionally, an acre of land accommodates about 500 trees of coffee. According to him, Arabica coffee brings in sh8.7m earnings per year, while robusta rakes in sh12m or sh9m in net income annually.
He says caring for the plantation and other related expenses account for sh4.5m annually. Yield per year is estimated at 1,000 kilogrammes or one tonne. A kilo of Arabica coffee presently costs sh8,700 on average, raking in 8.7m or a net sh4.2m after deducting the expenses.
He gets about 1,200 kilos of robusta coffee per annum. A kilo of robusta goes for sh7,000 in Rukiri, bringing in sh8.4m or sh6.3m after deducting costs like labour and pesticides estimated at sh2.1m. Tumwine sells all his coffee at the local factory in Rukiri trading centre.
Commercial dairy production is the lead enterprise at the farm. Initiated six years ago, the enterprise rakes in over sh8m in total income annually. The model farmer says he prioritises dairy production because it “gives you income every day”.
Initially, Tumwine had two low-grade crossbreed cows.
“I then started selection and cross-breeding through artificial insemination (AI) using conventional or non-sexed semen to serve the cows. “Both produced bull calves and I resorted to sexed semen to get heifers since my target was dairy farming,” he says. The two produced heifers the next round, which (off-spring) were served using AI with sexed semen at 18 months and 20 months, respectively, and also had heifers, he adds.
The first cross breed off-springs give him eight litres of milk each daily compared to five litres their mothers yield. “I expect that by the third level of cross-breeding, that off-spring will be able to produce between 15 and 20 litres milk,” adds the farmer, who also works with National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Fort Portal as a research officer – crop entomology.
Tumwine has friesian and jersey cows, but is looking to focus on the jersey breed going forward, explaining that “they don’t consume a lot or age quickly like the friesians”. However, the friesian are better milk producers. Presently, Tumwine has 21 head of cattle, including cows, heifers, calves and a bull.
The dairy unit occupies seven acres of land, three of which are dedicated to growing of pastures. Four acres are paddocked for the animals to graze on free range, the main method of feeding the animals at Tumwine’s farm.
Earnings and expenses
Tumwine gets 500 litres of milk each month. A litre of milk costs about sh1,000 on average. Tumwine sells the milk to bulk buyer while the remainder is bought by community members. The farmer pockets sh6m from milk sales each year, after deducting about sh2m to cater for expenses like artificial insemination charges, casual and permanent workers’ pay and the cost of drugs and acaricides.
“However, I would have gotten at least one heifer being produced during the year. If I sell it at seven months old, 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 on average. Oxen that are a year and a half will bring in sh2.5m each.
When the farmer switched to modern dairy production, he also embarked on growing of improved and local pastures. He grows a number of pastures, fodder and legumes which he feeds to the cattle when they are fresh.
Silage, hay, maize bran or feed concentrates are mainly for milking cows especially during the dry spells, explains the agripreneur. “When I started feeding the cows on extra feeds, they increased milk production. For instance, one cow used to give five litres, but now we get 10 litres from it,” says the model farmer. Tumwine grows napier, chloris gayana, a range of bracharia species, maize and legumes like rab rab, silverleaf desmodium and greenleaf desmodium, among others.
He explains that he embraced these modern practices because he lacks a large expanse of land. “I couldn’t get profits if I didn’t change my mind set and embrace modern dairy production,” says the father of two, explaining he also sells off the bulls and the less productive cows to manage costs.
Last year, Tumwine established pasture seed bank on a quarter of an acre of land for both local and improved pasture species. It comprises of grasses, legumes and fodder varieties.
He says the bank will ease access to seeds which is currently a big problem among farmers besides the high cost involved to buy them. “The aim is to ease access to seeds so farmers can establish pasture gardens to meet their livestock nutritional requirements. Agriculture students will also access pasture specimens for their practical studies in the community. It also will support future expansion of the dairy unit,” explains Tumwine.
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, but currently has 20 local and eight KTB hives that are all colonised.
Tumwine processes, packages and markets the honey at his cottage industry under the Muntu Natural Honey brand name. In a good season, he harvests 80-120 litres of honey.
His honey goes for sh6,000 to sh450,000 depending on the quantity and has a ready market in Rukiri and Ibanda town.
Why enterprise mix
Tumwine says unstable prices of agricultural produce forced him into mixed farming.
“This (enterprise mix) cushions me in case one unit is not doing well. The approach has also paid dividends as the enterprises support each other. For instance, manure from the animals is applied in the banana and coffee plantations as well as in the pastures boosting production. Coffee husks also manure the pastures boosting foliage production, he adds.
Tumwine says the extension workers have been instrumental guiding him along the way. He also gains knowledge from the Buzimba Mixed Farmers’ Association, a group he helped to form with the aim to promoting farmer-to-farmer extension service and learning.
“We meet monthly at a member’s farm to share information, knowledge and experiences. The association provides us a platform to learn from each other so as to improve our farming projects,” he said, adding that the meetings are usually attended by an extension staff. The farmer also researches and reads about dairy farming online as well as in the Harvest Money pullout.
Bio and 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.
Tumwine says the cost of AI is still high in Ibanda at sh160,000 for sexed semen per service and about sh70,000 for conventional semen each time a cow is served. This cost made him almost abandon dairy farming at some point, 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.
He says it is also hard to get reliable employees in the area. He gives incentives like free milk and food to workers to boost their morale and the possibility of them working harder and staying longer. The bad road from Ibanda town to Rukiri is another challenge that affects the marketability of his produce.
Records for sustainability
The agripreneur says record keeping has helped to track production levels across all the four enterprises, enabling him to intervene timely and strategically. “I know my earnings and expenses for any given period to gauge whether I am making losses or profits. I know which cow to sell, especially the poor milkers,” he says.
Some of the records at Tumwine’s farm include health of animals – the sick and their treatment, breeding records that show when cows are served, the semen type, expected dates of delivery and type of calf. Production records show daily output per cow and the amount of milk delivered at the dairy; milk sold to community members, among others. Financial records include workers’ pay, income and others expenses for cost of drugs and chemicals, manure, feeds, pasture seeds and for extension support services, among others
Tumwine manages banana weevil and vegetable pests ecologically using 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 (break down quickly) when exposed to sunshine,” explains the 56-year-old PhD candidate at Uganda Martyrs University.
Part of Tumwine’s farm occupies a swamp. However, the farmer has not constructed channels to drain the wetland. “I cut 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 also conserves soils 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 fruits and mangoes.
Esther Ainembabazi, Tumwine’s daughter and an S6 vacist, 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. Ainembabazi, who at times delivers the milk to the dairy, got the farming bug during the Covid-19 lockdown and has never looked back. “I am always involved when the workers are making silage, hay or mixing other cattle feeds, as well as during the harvest of Chloris gayana and baling it, says the 21-year-old and former student of Nyakibale Girls’ SS in Rukungiri. Ainembabazi encourages the youth to embrace agribusiness for steady income “since people have to eat”.
Tumwine’s wife, Hellen Mutenyo, who works away from home at Mbarara Stock Farm, is mainly involved in the coffee and banana enterprises whenever she is home. She adds that she participates in the planting of pastures and manages the family’s nascent one acres mango plantation.
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 he is always around; he is not managing the enterprise by remote. This has helped him to make timely interventions to avoid losses since he doesn’t leave farm management and supervision only to workers,” he notes. Additionally, he is good at records, which helps him to keep tabs on all farm operations, adds the vet.
Initially, Tumwine used bulls, whose pedigree was unknown, to serve the cows.
“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 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. At least I am sure the semen is from a recognised pure breed bull. This way, I have been able to improve the herd as I get a 50% pure breed off-spring that I further improve with AI,” he adds. Some of my animals are at the second level of cross-breeding, meaning I am about to get grade dairy cattle using this technology (AI).
He says he plans to add value on beeswax, collecting bee venom, as well as making yoghurt. This (honey packaging), hay and silage are the noticeable three aspects of value addition at the farm.
What others say
Sapentia Ayebazibwe, of Ryamutamba village, lauds the model farmer for starting the community group, saying it has made it possible for members to address challenges jointly.
Louis Kyomuhangi, from Kabingo in Mabonwa, says that Tumwine is always willing to guide them on the best farming practices, which has helped to “boost production of our enterprises”.
Africano Rutaremwa, from Kaara village, Mabonwa, is a student of Tumwine in terms of agripreneurship and dairy production. He says most of the knowledge he has in dairy farming, coffee and banana production was acquired from Tumwine. “One time, he visited me and was shocked by my old coffee trees and the darkness in the plantation. He later me to remove them and prune the shamba, and I removed 400 old coffee trees as result.”
He explained that darkness attracts pests and one uses a lot of chemicals to spray the plantation compared to when it is pruned and properly spaced.
Peter Njunwoha, the farm manager, is now an expert silage and hay-maker. I have learnt modern farming practices that I didn’t know before like caring and treating the animals, spraying them as well as using AI to serve the cows, says Njunwoha. He plans to start his own dairy project when he leaves Muntu Agro Enterprises. “Presently, I don’t worry about my children’s fees and upkeep, thanks to the salary I get at the farm.”