By Victoria Nampala Bugembe
Many people fail to figure out a retirement plan. However, there are those with plans but still fail to apply them respectively.
When George Stephen Okotha was working with the Insurance Regulatory Authority (IRA) as director of operations, he used the opportunity to get his retirement plan idea.
This came through while he was training retirees on insurance which was organized by the Ministry of Public Service to equip retirees with ideas on investment, handling money, and retirement.
During the training, he was introduced to fruit trees and spices farming.
Out of the many examples of fruit trees mentioned, Okotha decided to try cinnamon, cocoa, soursop, and guavas only under nursery beds.
Since the idea was perceived before actual retirement, Okotha was so organized that within the second year of retirement, he had started getting minimal money.
“The biggest problem with retired people is that many take long to initiate their plans into Action. Others set many ideas and get confused about what exactly to deal with despite receiving guidance from various experts,” Okoth says.
Okotha is a member of the Bweyogerere-Namboole Rotary Club, which helped him affect his plan smoothly through the effective use of different loans that were extended to IRA employees toward retirement.
Okotha’s enterprises cover 25 acres located in the villages of Nanga near Nakifuma and Nabiyagi near Kabembe in Mukono district respectively.
Today, he is one of the leading suppliers of seedlings in the Mukono district and as a trainer and mentor.
Okotha is also the chairperson of Cinnamon and Rosemary farmers in the Mukono district.
How he started
In 2019, he started a company called Mukono Cinnamon and Rosemary Farmers.
I got the desire for cinnamon, especially when I visited Zanzibar in 2015 for a seminar where the team was divided into two groups.
They said those who want to go to the ZOO, there is this bus and those who want to visit the spice gardens use this bus.
‘Just because I was working and still thinking about what to venture into upon retirement, I opted to go to the spice garden and that’s where we were explained about Cinnamon and it was my first time to see a cinnamon plant”, Okoth confesses.
They were taught the medical, spices, and economic benefits of cinnamon and upon coming back, he started looking for cinnamon seedlings mainly from roadside nursery beds which he could plant and later multiply through grafting or nursery bed of seeds.
Each plant was worth sh 30,000.
After some time, the trees started bearing seeds which I could use to plant more beds and planting. At the moment, I have 6,000 trees of cinnamon and 40,000 seedlings.
Cinnamon (muddalasini) has two types but both Ceylon and cassia are commonly used because they are healthy and delicious but above all, better quality and much safer for all seasons.
He adds that a person can easily earn from cinnamon in five different ways throughout the year. These include; leaves which are mostly bought by market vendors and on average, Okotha gets shs5,000 on a single tree per cutting, and leaves are cut three times a year.
You can also get money from the tree back. This is the real cinnamon Once it has grown up, one can sell a tree at between sh 300,000- shs600,000 per tree, and Okotha adds that a farmer can get the tree back, grind it, and pack it in the container for sale.
The cinnamon seeds can also be sold and currently, a kilo goes for sh200,000 but the seeds can be used to make a nursery bed and sell seedlings.
The real cinnamon tree can be used for timber or firewood.
Before Okoth started cultivating cinnamon, he first
experimented with seedlings for sale, and then proceeded to grow them for their leaves and stems. He has planted 6,000 trees and makes cinnamon powder for sale.
Okoth says he got lucky when a vendor from Owino market in Kampala started buying leaves and stems in bulk.
The vendor sells them in South Sudan, where the market is huge.
Okoth says when the cinnamon trees are cut down, new shoots sprout, translating into more money from them.
“When you cut down a whole stem, you can get about 30 new shoots. After one year, you can cut off 26, sell each at sh1,000, and earn sh26,000. Keep the remaining four stems which you can harvest every six months. That way, even your grandchildren will benefit,” he explains.
Okoth also has a nursery bed, where he grows seedlings for sale. He sells each at sh10,000, sh5,000, and sh3,000, depending on the age.
Okoth has 6,000 cinnamon trees but says he will plant more with an increase in demand.
“Since it is my Cash cow for retirement, I make sure there is constant setting up of nursery beds since orders get overwhelming at times”, he adds.
Planting is strict during the rainy season. During the rains, the plant preserves water that can sustain it during the dry season and they do not dry up.
The gestation period depends on the nature of the seedling. if you buy a seedling of one and a half years that is already old, in the next one and half years after planting, it will be ready for harvesting.
The harvest time is when the leaves of the cinnamon tree turn green exhibiting the flavor.
Cinnamon is harvested using clippers that cut the branches and after four months of cutting, the leaves regrow and the cycle continues throughout the year until the big tree is cut down for timber or firewood respectively.
Apart from cinnamon, Okotha deals in other plant seedlings like guavas, sour soup, and Rosemary among others.
Okoth says he has managed to get a market for his Seedlings through attending various Agricultural exhibitions, and conferences as well as the church and the Rotary family at large.
He further uses the proceeds to expand the farm by planting more seedlings of different fruit trees and spices.
“Then, of course, I am retired, just being on the farm alone is an achievement. I am now supervising workers and that satisfies me. The money might not be much yet, but I am optimistic that I will make more in the future,” he adds.
He has also built accommodations for his workers, who live in the neighborhood which makes them available all the time to tend to the beds and small gardens.
“Due to the accommodation available, my workers are reliable during both rainy and dry seasons,” he explains.
Okotha now running a campaign of reafforestation through his community where he is preaching the gospel of mixed farming of trees with other crops regardless of one’s piece of land size.
He has 50,000 Cinnamon, 70,000 soursops, 2,000 guavas, and 5,000 cocoa seedlings that are ready for planting.
“The seedlings cost between sh 30000- shs5,000 respectively depending on the size available,” he speaks.
He adds that there is always a ready nursery bed for his seedings and never runs out of plants.
To generate more money, Okotha started adding value to his products by introducing them into a powder form that he does from his home located in Bweyogerere.
Okotha cites pests and diseases that seedings, expensive materials, labor, high transport costs, and market unpredictably as some of the challenges he is facing in his project.
However, Okotha’s main challenge is the lack of enough market for his seedings.
“I am looking for a market for my seedlings. The pandemic greatly affected my plans. I have not recovered fully but I sense a positive and bright future ahead,” he says.
Okotha’s farm lacks enough security. The gardens are open. People cross through while connecting to other places creating small pathways that risk and damage his fruits and trees.
Okoth says birds are also a challenge as they eat up the cinnamon seeds before they germinate which limits his expected seedlings at the end of the day.
To closely monitor his business, Okotha keeps all the records about different nursery beds, sales, spraying schedules, and visiting appointments from various people.
He fenced off most of his gardens for security though people still use them as pathways to different places nearby.
There is registration for all people who visit the farm regardless of the reason why they are there at any time.
Okotha plans to introduce a demonstration farm and offer services to students, institutions, and individuals at a small fee.
Since tea and sauce spices are imported from Kenya, Okotha plans to approach suppliers like Hot Chili Limited to do business with them.
Okotha says he always employs underprivileged youths in the community. They are 10 but 3 are salary earners while the seven are casual workers who work under instructions but are paid immediately after executing a given task.