by Michael J. Ssali
When we arrived at St. Jude Family Projects at Busense, Kabonera sub-county, in Masaka District on June 2, 2007, the proprietor, Ms. Josephine Kizza, had just returned from Brazil where she had spent almost a month addressing farmers and carrying out demonstrations in different parts of that country about organic farming. She was resting after the long journey and it was Mr. Juma Byarugaba, one of about 20 twenty farm hands who conducted us around the farm.
President Museveni has visited the famous 3.7 acre small-scale farm a number of times and has often publicly said that Kizza earns a minimum of 50 million Shillings ($31,000) from the farm every month. In March he took his entire cabinet to the farm. The president believes that other small-scale farmers have a lot to learn from Kizza.
The farm has since the 90s been the destination of farmers seeking to improve their livelihood out of small-scale farming. It is also the place to go to learn about environmental protection, rain water harvesting, fruit drying, organic farming, bee keeping, bark yard farming, irrigation, soil conservation, fish farming, and a whole range of other farming activities.
Today, it doubles as a farm and a training institution. Farmers or extension workers who choose to spend a few days or weeks at the farm learning about particular farming skills are provided with accommodation and meals at the farm at a fee. Short time visitors that want to be taken around the various projects at the farm are each charged Shs5,000 ($3). Donor agencies and NGOs keep taking groups of farmers and students from as far as Tanzania and Kenya to the farm to learn about organic farming.
St. Jude Family Projects are comprised of 17 different money-generating projects, all on 3.7 acres of land. The projects are divided into two categories, animal husbandry and crop husbandry. "But the most valuable commodity on this farm are the animals' and birds' droppings," Byarugaba said. "It is from the droppings that we get the biogas, which we use to cook; it is the droppings we use to feed our fish, to make compost manure, and to fertilise the soil for effective crop growing."
The farm puts nothing to waste. The slurry from the biogas tank is directed into trenches that lead it to the various crop gardens on the farm, where it serves as manure. Cow dung not only serves as a source of biogas or manure, but it may also be used to feed chicken. Yet chicken droppings when treated may be used to feed cattle. Cow's urine is very good manure but it may also be turned into a natural pesticide. Cassava flour can be used to improvise for cement when the farmer wants to construct a simple house to store such items as seeds or small-scale farm implements.
Rainwater from the compound is collected and stored in a huge underground tank cheaply made out of polythene. The farmer may use the water to irrigate his crops or to feed his animals during the dry season. There are demonstrations on drip irrigation and the preparation of 'plant tea' and liquid manure, the latter two both for irrigation and soil enrichment.
There are six exotic cows and about as many calves under zero grazing on the farm. There are exotic dairy goats and pigs and both local and exotic chicken. Farmers in the neighbourhood are encouraged to bring their local animals to the farm to mate with the exotic breeds.
The pigs on the farm tend to grow to monstrous sizes and some are said to weigh as much as 200 kilogrammes. The animals' droppings are used to make composite manure for the crops.
There is a nursery for grafted fruit tree cuttings. One can get fast growing fruit trees such as mangoes, oranges, lemons, avocado, and passion fruit creepers.
The farm is planned in such a way that almost any tree or plant growing on it has a bearing to farming. The trees are either soil enriching or fodder for animals. There are such trees as calliandra calothyrsus, grevillea robusta and grasses such as elephant grass, Guatemala, Tanzania and lab, lab. Mangoes and mutuba trees are also grown, as their leaves are good fodder for goats, apart from providing shade.
Trees such as neem are useful for repelling mosquitoes and other harmful insects. The trees and grasses are mostly planted along soil erosion control bunds and water conduction trenches. By continuously growing the trees, the farmer is never without wood for fuel.
Visitors also learn about fuel-saving stoves and fireplaces. "All people who own cows have no excuse not to use biogas," said our guide, Byarugaba. On our way to the fishpond in the valley, we saw about 20 beehives from which the farmer harvests honey for export at about Shs9,000 ($5.50) per kilo.
In the pond, Kizza rears fish known in Luganda as 'male.' How large they grow depends on how long she keeps them in the pond. Recently, Byarugaba said, it was decided that harvesting takes place after eight months. The buyers of her fish are large hotels and restaurants in Kampala at Shs1,500 (US 90 cents) per kilo. Cow dung, maize flour and rotting vegetables are good food for fish in the pond.
And how does she fight snakes and birds that prey on fish? Boiled eggs are placed along the pond's boundaries and when a snake swallows the egg, it cannot digest it and so it dies. Polythene sheets, which most snakes are known to abhor, are also placed around the pond. Scarecrows such as damaged tapes are tied across the pond and they frighten birds as the wind blows, shaking the tapes and causing a peculiar sound.
At the fruit drying section, one will learn about the difference between selling fresh jackfruit locally at Shs1,500 and drying it and exporting it to earn as much as Shs40,000 ($25) per kilo. The farm exports dried sweet bananas, gonja, pineapples, jackfruit, tomatoes and mangoes to Europe.
So how did the two former school teachers, Kizza and her late husband Aliddeki Kizza, who had no prior training in agriculture at all, rise up to this level of farming? "Well, we were interested," she said, standing in the compound in front of her beautiful grey-roofed mansion. She was an infant class teacher husband, who held a diploma in education, was a secondary school teacher of commerce and accounts.
They once grew a large field of cassava but after failing to get a buyer for the crop, they decided to rear two pigs to consume the cassava. "From then onwards, we would attend farmers' seminars and visit other farmers, copying what we deemed best for us. Later, we went into cattle zero grazing, resigned from teaching, and became full time farmers."
With time, they noticed they were attracting several visitors who wanted to learn from them. So it made sense to charge a fee to compensate for the time they spent taking the visitors around the different projects on the farm.
In the early 90s, an English visitor to the farm helped Kizza take up a year's training in Britain in organic farming. A few years later, her husband did a similar course in Denmark. And now what they built is something other farmers can learn from.
June 29, 2007
by Michael J. Ssali