By Umar Nsubuga
For the eighth year running, Vision Group, together with the embassy of the Netherlands, KLM Airlines, dfcu Bank, and Koudjis Nutrition BV are running the Best Farmers competition. The 2023 competition runs from March to November. Every week, the Vision Group platforms will publish profiles of the farmers. Winners will walk away with sh150m and a fully paid-for trip to the Netherlands
Cassim Wojambuka is popularly known as ‘Young Boss’ in Teryet village, Kapchorwa district. This is mainly because of his accomplishments at his fairly young age.
Wojambuka’s main enterprise is dairy farming and he also grows coffee, cabbage and Irish potatoes. His farm sits on 25 acres.
He intercropped coffee and cabbages on 10 acres, Irish potatoes on six acres, while the cattle are on a free range and zero grazed on the remaining acres.
The 32-year-old walks briskly as he watches over a herd of cattle feeding on hay at the farm.
“I invested in cattle keeping mainly because I considered it safe,” he says as he waves a herding stick.
HOW HE STARTED
Wojambuka says he picked interest in farming as a child. He grew up in Mbale and he used to go to Kapchorwa, where his family and relatives were practising subsistence farming.
When he joined secondary school, he started growing cabbages, tomatoes and onions for home consumption and sale, on the one acre of land his father had given him.
“After completing O’level in 2015, I fell in love with cattle. Using savings totalling sh500,000 from the vegetables I used to sell, I bought a friesian cow,” Wojambuka says, adding that the cow produced more than four calves in a period five years and it was a good start.
He says it was not easy to balance studies and farming, but he worked hard because he loved both.
In 2016, after Senior Four, Wojambuka did not bother looking for a job, he opted for full-time farming in Teryet.
He started with two acres; the one his parents gave him and another which he rented at sh150,000 for a year. He planted onions and cabbages on one acre each.
“I worked very hard, from morning to evening with little rest. I spent sh500,000 on both projects and I earned sh2m,” he says.
Wojambuka says growing onions was easy because he had learnt best agronomic practices from farmers who were doing it on a commercial scale.
He had learnt them before implementing them on a commercial basis.
“Using sh1.5m, which I earned in the first season, I bought another acre at sh1m and the sh500,000 was used to clear the land and plant,” Wojambuka says.
The next season, he expanded to three acres — two were his and the third rented.
He grew onions on one acre and Irish potatoes on two. To avoid losses, he adopted modern practices such as planting high-quality seed and applying fertilisers.
“When I got enough time, my garden was doing well and the cow was giving me good milk,” he says.
He gets 100 litres of milk daily from 12 of his cows. Apart from providing him milk, the cows give him manure for his gardens. Wojambuka sells the milk at sh1,500 per litre, earning him an average of sh150,000 daily.
Asked about costs, Wojambuka says the biggest expense he incurred in starting the farm was sh10m, which he used to construct a cattle shed, he had saved sh4m and borrowed the rest.
He has 25 cows, 12 of which are milking cows. From these, he gets 100-120 litres per day. This enterprise also contributes dung and urine for organic manure, which is applied in the crop plantations.
Wojambuka says the average cost of a litre of milk is sh800 during the wet season and sh1,000 during the dry one.
“My buyers are the big restaurants and hotels in Kapchorwa,” Wojambuka says.
He says he concentrated on the hybrids because they mature faster and attract a higher price than indigenous ones.
From milk, he earns about sh3m per month, from which he spends on a veterinary doctor to monitor and vaccinate his cattle, especially when they are sick and fuel to transport the milk to town.
“In addition to grazing in the paddocks, the cows are fed on silage and hay,” he says.
As a supplement, he buys molasses at sh120,000 per drum of 250 litres and adds it to the grass. This can last him a month.
In order to give enough water to the cows, he stores water in tanks. To protect water from being contaminated by cows drinking directly from tanks, he uses pumps to pump it into tanks.
The water is then distributed to troughs. He says the regular expenses are on workers and feeds that cost him sh150,000 weekly.
“I spray every two weeks at sh50,000-sh70,000. I also call a veterinary doctor to check them once in two months,” he says.
The services Wojambuka gets from veterinary doctors include artificial insemination, which he says has improved the breeds on his farm.
He says the biosecurity has helped him to keep out diseases which have serious economic implications.
Wojambuka says he still has a good chance of reliable workers, some of whom are of his age.
“These youth are like brothers and sisters. We eat together and work together. I have not even involved my family because my wife owns a shop and my children are still young,” he says.
Wojambuka says Irish potatoes are a seasonal crop that matures in three months. With a combination of fair weather and good agronomic practices, he earns sh10-12m from an acre.
“I get 100-200 bags from an acre. I sell a bag at between sh60,000 and sh90,000,” he says.
Cost of production
Wojambuka says the seed is the most important variable in the enterprise. A 100kg bag of seed usually goes for sh200,000 and an acre requires five bags or sh1m.
Land preparation takes sh60,000 per acre when using oxen for first ploughing. Before the Irish potato seed material is planted, a farmer should apply fertiliser.
A 50kg bag of fertiliser goes for sh120,000 and an acre requires three bags. Planting costs sh100,000 per acre.
“Three weeks after planting, the Irish potatoes would have germinated and the garden is due for weeding,” he says.
Wojambuka says attention is crucial as it gives room for the plants to yield more.
“Spraying with a fungicide protects the crop from being attacked by fungal diseases,” he advises.
A kilogramme of effective fungicides on the Ugandan market goes for about sh35,000. A kilogramme mixed in water can spray an acre of Irish potatoes.
The labour for the fungicide application is usually sh50,000 per acre.
“During harvest time, I require a labour force of seven to 10 people per acre. Each of them is paid sh5,000 per 100kg bag they fill,” Wojambuka says.
He has no formal background in the Irish potato enterprise, other than curiosity and constant consultation with farmers who have been engaged in the enterprise longer than him.
Best post-harvest practices Because Irish potatoes are a perishable crop, Wojambuka discourages the use of sharp implements, such as hoes, which could bruise them.
“The danger of packing cut Irish potatoes is that it makes them rot,” he says.
It is a prudent practice for the handlers undertaking the harvest to use their hands to reduce damages to the potatoes.
Wojambuka has 15,000 hybrid cabbages on 10 acres.
He ventured into growing the crop saying they are an important vegetable in the region, thus the market is readily available.
“Some customers come from neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Sudan,” he says.
At the peak of the season, a medium-sized cabbage costs between sh500 and sh1,000 at the farm.
However, during the dry season, they go for sh1,500- sh2,500. An acre yields 15,000-20,000 cabbages, which fetches an average sh7m-sh10m, depending on the season.
Average costs per acre are sh5m, including buying seeds.
Wojambuka says well-drained soils enhance quick germination within 21-25 days before transplanting.
He says one needs to prepare the ground with organic materials before transplanting.
Manure is one of the essentials for proper growth in the nursery bed, therefore, basal fertilisers, such DAP, insecticide and fungicide give healthy seed.
This is backed up with fine soils mulched with dry grass, before water is applied using a watering can.
Do not flood the seeds. Uproot the seedlings with roots. This ensures high chances of survival and better establishment in the main garden.
Watering the seedlings one hour before transplanting moistens the soil, improving the chances of their survival.
He says when you encounter the challenge of the diseases, which include black rot, black leg, downey mildew and white rust, which attack both the leaves and roots, you can manage them quickly.
“Cabbages are ready at 65-75 days after planting. At this stage, they are firm with fully formed heads and weigh between 2kg-4kg,” he explains.
From an acre of cabbage, Wojambuka earns between sh4m and sh7m, depending on the season.
Wojambuka started planting coffee in 2020. After undergoing training for five months, he discovered that organic farming was not only a better approach to coffee growing, but also cost-effective as a farmer does not spend on pesticides and fertilisers, which could be made locally using organic materials. He got coffee seedlings from Mbale.
They were 4,500 seedlings, each costing sh1,000 and they are all doing well.
Values of the farm
Wojambuka says they have managed to sustain the farm’s legacy by respecting the core values on which it was established.
“Excellence is one of team’s core values and we achieve it through a monitored evaluation system and client feedback,” he says.
Wojambuka says other core values of the farm include integrity, trust and confidence, affordability of products, good customer service and community empowerment.
“We also do trainings and sensitisation programmes for farmers, in order to create awareness and inform the public on how to shift from cattle rearing to profitable farming ventures,” Wojambuka says.
Looking back, Wojambuka says he cannot imagine that he was able to achieve tangible assets in such a short time.
After 10 years of the enterprise, he has constructed a training centre, where he trains some farmers who want to go into dairy farming and he charges sh20,000 per person.
He has also bought a lorry which transports his produce, and also expanded to 25 acres.
Wojambuka has aslo been able to pay tuition for himself and other three of his young siblings.
He says farming saved him from buying food for his parents and family.
“Since I went into farming, the income and nutrition status of my family has improved.
“I wish to also promote farming for export by empowering a bigger section of the community with knowledge in commercial farming and the best practices,” he says.
Wojambuka advises the youth, especially those engaged in unreliable businesses, to switch to farming because it is profitable.
Wojambuka plans to start a company in Teryet, and expand his dairy farm in Kapchorwa into a training centre for both students and farmers.
His vision is to have more than 200 head of cattle. Wojambuka dreams of growing Teryet mixed farm into a model one in five years’ time.
“My dream is making several dairy products such as ghee and yoghurt,” he says.
Wojambuka says he employs 15 youth on average per week and during harvesting period he employs over 20, some of whom have since set up their own farms, and so far six are independent.
Wojambuka’s farm is also a demonstration centre where others can learn from.
His highest paid worker earns sh250,000 a month, while the lowest receives about sh150,000.
Mixed farm challenges
Wojambuka says the weather has become erratic, which has made farming costly.
He says much as he irrigates, there are times when water supply from Kanabeye falls is too low to serve his farm sufficiently.
Wojambuka decries the fake farm inputs, especially seeds and chemicals.
“To avoid falling victim, I spend an extra coin to get inputs from Kenya,” he says.
Getting skilled labour is a challenge: “Milk prices are also still low at only sh1,000 per litre, yet feeding cattle is costly,” he says, adding that for a farmer to earn a decent profit, a litre should be at least sh1,500.
What others say
Jackson Cherop, resident
Wojambuka has expended his knowledge. We now have knowledge on dairy farming that we appreciate. He has made farming as serious business.
Joseph Munyera, farmer
I have been a farmer for over 20 years, but it is from Wojambuka that I have learnt best practices on farming. I will not be suffering any more losses.
Jennifer Chebet, friend
I was growing only onions, but when I went to Wojambuka, he gave me knowledge free of charge and now I am expanding. He wants us to start so that we do not go to his farm to steal.
Martin Cherop, resident
Community members have learnt so much from the young man’s farm, which makes him outstanding