The multimillion farming empire the county chief built

Three years ago Tom Okello was just an ordinary sub county chief in Uganda earning a paltry UGX 150,000(Sh5, 000) which could merely take care of his family. But a short training changed the course of his life by pointing him to cheaper ways of exploiting his 11 acres of idle land which now earns him Sh17million yearly.

His light bulb moment came when he attended an economic transformation and development retreat at Kyankwanzi in his capacity as a government officer. “We had the theory part of the session from different speakers and then were given a chance to visit various farmers who were doing great things in agribusiness. Despite the fact that I had 11 acres of land, I had no idea of how to fully maximize returns from it,” he said.

 To him at that time, he could not comprehend how farming could become the dominant topic in national leadership workshop as he had hoped for more technological and political approach.  He later learnt the agribusiness topic was more interesting. The conference won him over when they were taken to field visits as part of the training. “We visited two farmers; Peterson Nyombi and Kizza Susan both accomplished mixed farmers from Mityana and Masaka respectively. They were earning millions of shillings monthly from their innovative farming ventures and surprisingly, they had even smaller pieces land than what I was putting to waste in my village,” explained Okello. To rub salt into Okello’s wound was the fact apiary project in Nyombi’s farm was fetching millions annually and yet it demanded almost zero costs to manage.

Inspired by what he learnt, Okello left the retreat with only one striking idea in his mind; Venturing into agribusiness and doing better than the two model farmers. With about UGX 400,000(Sh13,000) earned as an allowance earned from the retreat, the determined new made farmer set the ball rolling. To begin with, he subdivided his 11 acres of land into different sections and set out the major projects to begin with. He bought and planted Citrus and mango seedlings, set up an apiary, piggery, banana plantation and also set off a local chicken project.

To him, the beginning for any one with limited finance has to be humble and one must yearn for success in what he is venturing in. “You must embrace mixed farming in order to ensure year round earnings and I had this embedded in my plan,” explained Okello. According to him, the use of locally available materials like in the making of bee hives greatly reduced his initial cost of investment. Nonetheless, like any other greenhorn in any venture, the initial stages of his journey into setting up a millionaire agribusiness empire were marred by both technical and finance challenges which he resolved through guidance from extension officers from National Agricultural Advisory service NAADs. “NAADs was a blessing to me and I maximized their technical prowess. The problem with many farmers who have been complaining about it (NAADS) is that they are lazy and always expect material handouts from the body yet the team is charged with giving the technical assistance to them,” he added.

Having secured credit financing to expand the projects, Okello has never looked back and now his once bushy piece of land is the envy of most villagers aroundTelela village in Lira district. He now boasts of over 1500 citrus and 250 mango trees.  He harvests over three bags of citrus fruits per tree and with each bag retailing at UGX90,000,(Sh3,000) he earns about UGX400 million(Sh13million) from citrus alone. Another lucrative venture that he also boasts of from his investment is bee keeping.

He has mastered the art of using traditional palm tree bee hives which are twice the size of the conventional hives a fact he noted that more than triples the amount of honey per harvest. “I have over 170 ‘palm tree’ bee hives from which I harvest honey twice per year. On average, each hive produces between 18 to 25 kilos of honey,” explained Okello. Each kilo of unprocessed honey cots retails at about UGX 20,000(Sh670) meaning that on a lower side, Okello pockets about UGX100 million(Sh3million) annually. The returns from honey are what he acknowledges to be the sweetest returns among all his ventures due to the fact that save for the initial investment, the subsequent periods of the apiary project demand less attention and investment as compared to his other ventures.

Due to his quick rise into the helm of a successful agripeneurs in the region, Okello has curled himself into not only being a shrewd respected model farmer but also a training expert in agribusiness. “Due to increased enquiries and requests from farmers and other development organizations, I have opened up my farm for training for various youths in the region and other interested parties. We conduct the training with two qualified extension officers one for animal and the other one a plant specialist.” Many NGOs in the region have benefitted from the farm’s pool of skills with an estimated 800 youths training from the farm in the last one and half year.

Depending on the needs of individuals, the two day training is charged between UGX20000(Sh700) and 30000(Sh1000). To Okello, agribusiness has huge untapped potential and if well approached and even made more sexy and trendy (modernization) can help resolve the current unemployment impasse that is eating up most African states.