Uganda – From hate to love: Ochakolong’s agricultural journey

01 Dec 2020

Growing up, Ochakolong Esukaya, a now second-year student of agribusiness management at Busitema University in Soroti, detested farming. To him, farming was a form of punishment.  Back in primary school, he explained, farming and especially weeding were activities for latecomers and students who misbehaved.

Having grown up in a farming household, Ochakolong continued to farm. In February and May 2020 during the long rains, he was selected by Acila Enterprises Ltd to be one of two host farmers for a demonstration garden at Busitema University. Acila Enterprises is one of the AFAP-supported hub agro dealers that received funds for demand creation. He was allocated 600 tomato seedlings of the Kilele F1 variety. With the provided seedlings, Ochakolong managed to achieve 95% germination. On a 40m by 20m plot, he grew 1300kg from the garden, which was worth 1.3 million shillings ($ 371). The cost of production on his side was zero apart from his time since the demo plot was fully funded through AFAP funds. As a result of his commitment,

Acila Enterprises allocated him the funds earned to reinvest and also to buy some sachets of Kilele, which he was to sell to neighbouring farmers. Ochakolong sold 109 sachets of Kilele F1, each of which cost 62 000 shillings (approximately $17). Acila paid him a commission 1000 Ugandan shillings ($0.02) per sachet.

Having now discovered that farming could be rewarding, Ochakolong embarked on a journey of planting vegetables such as pumpkins, tomatoes, okra and some maize. During March 2020, while everyone was staying home due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ochakolong decided to stay on campus. He hired land from the school at 50 000 shillings (approximately $14) per acre and set up two acres of pumpkin, two acres of maize and 0.5 acres of Kilele F1 tomato variety. He has so far earned: four million shillings (approximately $1111) from the pumpkins, with each one costing about 1000 shillings ($0.02); 700,000 shillings (approximately $194) from the tomatoes of which 1000kg were sold; and 600 000 shillings (approximately $166) from the okra, a bucket which cost 15 000 shillings ($4.1) each. He plans to mill his maize and feed it to the chickens he is rearing.

Figure 1: Ochakolong inspecting his Kilele_F1 tomato garden

Making use of his experience from Acila’s support and the knowledge gained from his agricultural degree, Ochakolong has trained over 200 farmers through his social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp. He also mentors five farmers, each of whom have earned one million shillings (approximately $277.70) this year from their produce of tomatoes, watermelons and eggplants.

“My main goal is to improve the livelihood of the farmers. I have even registered a company called ESU Foods Uganda Ltd through which I am providing training,” Ochakolong explained. “AFAP and Acila Enterprises Ltd gave me a start and I am now the brand ambassador for Syngenta in Arapai, Busitema. I also host trials for Syngenta for any seeds they wish to test in Soroti,” he added.

To maintain soil fertility that would allow the continued growth of nutritious and healthy crops, Ochakolong, like any other farmer, has turned to fertilizers. However, with an influx of fake agrochemicals in the country, as well as having witnessed his close friend being duped into buying clay concealed as fertilizer, Ochakolong decided to keep buying fertilizers from Acila Enterprises Limited.

“There are many agro-input shops but I prefer Acila because I am sure of what I am buying,” Ochakolong explained.

His major challenge so far has been the unavailability of fertilizer and transportation due to restrictions set up by the government to curb the spread of COVID-19. Fertilizers such as Yara power were out of stock most of the times and when Acila Enterprise’s stock ran out, he found himself ordering fertilizers from Kampala, which took close to a week to arrive since he had to wait for the cargo vehicle to reach Soroti. The result was a delay in planting.

“My biggest lesson so far has been to work together with other farmers,” Ochakolong added. “Some farmers know the best markets to sell to and some are well informed about the current changes in farming. This is very difficult to know as an individual farmer. When you work together, you are able to avoid exploitation by middlemen who buy your products cheaply and sell them expensively. I am a complete agribusiness specialist now,” Ochakolong enthused.

His advice to the youth was to start small because you can never have everything. “Don’t wait to get 10 million because you might never start. What if you never get 10 million?” he asked.

Figure 2: Potted tomato Kilele F1 seedlings planted by Ochakolong

Figure 3: The Kilele F1 demo managed by Ochakalong Esukaya (in middle) and some visiting farmers.                                    Figure 4: Some of the pumpkins from Ochakolong’s farm

Figure 5: Kilele F1 tomatoes before the start of harvest from Ochakolong’s demo plot.

Figure 6: Some of Ochakolong’s harvested crops ready for sale