Agriculture is still a lucrative business - the story of one 'tin' farmer's journey to becoming a millionaire

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“Who am I that today I can earn a million shillings from my farming; have my own goat and food all year round with children comfortably in school? Thank you SNV." says Judith Tusiime, rural farmer working with Agriculture Market Support programme.

Rural poverty and rural development are two concepts that have dominated the development agenda for a very long time. While poverty levels have been falling globally, the poor are still trapped in a mesh of disadvantage. Until the knots that keep the poverty mesh strong are identified and loosened, the rural poor will remain trapped in what Robert Chambers (1983) refers to as the deprivation trap. Chambers provides a description of the rural poor. To him; the household is poor with few or no assets; the household is physically weak with a high ratio of dependents to able bodied adults; the household is isolated from the outside world; the household is vulnerable with few buffers against contingencies; the household is powerless and ignorant of the law and an easy victim of predation by the powerful. This case provides an illustration of how rural development interventions that are focussed and well implemented can enable the rural poor to break the deprivation trap.

Since 2014, SNV Uganda has been implementing the Purchase for Progress Project (P4P) also known as the Agriculture and Market Support Project in Kasese and Kabarole districts; it targets small holder farmers living in rural poor communities. This year the project aims to increase income for 6,000 small holder farmers by connecting them to sustainable markets. The project is part of the wider USAID Feed the Future Progamme. The majority of the targeted farmers live in the deprivation trap as espoused by Chambers with poor dwellings; isolated in remote hard to reach areas; weakened by diseases; heavily indebted to loan sharks; highly vulnerable to shocks especially crop failure due to climate change.

One such farmer is Judith Tusiime, who initially started out cultivating borrowed land where she would plant seeds in “a kimbo-tin-full” (small cooking fat tin). “SNV trainings transformed me from ‘a kimbo' (tin) farmer to a potential millionaire" says Judith, a farmer from Kasese District- Nyamwamba Division. Judith was first introduced to the leadership training programme in 2014 under the Purchase for Progress Programme implemented by SNV.

“The training was very timely. Every bit of it touched my life, it was like it was organised specifically for me because the solutions and learnings were addressing most of the challenges that my group and I were facing,” Judith reflected.

Before the training Judith could barely feed her family, given her reliance on borrowed pieces of land where she would sow a kilo ‘kimbo-full tin’ worth of groundnuts. Indeed, one can say that she was trapped in the deprivation trap. She could not borrow money from her Village Savings and Loan Association Group (VSLA) because her savings were too small to enable her borrow. At 10% per month, the interest rate was prohibitively high.

After participating in the good agronomic practices training by SNV at her group’s demonstration plot for maize, ground nuts and beans, she realised it was possible to do farming as a paying business as well as for food security.

SNV also trained Judith’s group on the village saving and loan scheme methodology. From the training, Judith and her team realised that if their VSLA group was to help its members, they needed to make the following changes;

• Reduce their interest from rate 10% to 5% per month to increase on the ability of their members to borrow.

• Increase individual weekly minimum share value per sitting from shs.200 to at least shs.1000, in order to increase their loan portfolio for members to borrow from.

• To change share out time from the month of December where most members end up spending their annual savings during the festive season. Instead they agreed to share out their savings in the month of January when the money can be invested in more productive ventures like hiring of land, buying agricultural inputs and paying school fees for their children.

These changes have transformed Judith and her group’s lives. Due to the changes made by the group Judith was able to borrow 150,000 UGX (44 USD) in January 2015 from her group.

This was the biggest amount she had ever borrowed from a formal group. With the money in her hands, she hired an acre of land for the first season planting. Judith planted one acre of ground nuts and harvested five sacks of groundnuts which she sold at 120,000UGX (35 USD) each, earning her 600,000 UGX (177 USD). With her earnings, Judith bought a plastic silo and used the balance to comfortably pay off her loan and re-invest the balance in her farming business.

During the 2nd season of 2015, she used part of the savings she received at share out to hire two acres of land. With the two acres, Judith was able to expand and plant two crops- maize and groundnuts on each acre. This time she harvested six sacks of groundnuts and 560 kg of maize. She saved 150kgs of maize for her home consumption in her plastic silo and bulked 410 kg of maize in a joint group store when the price of maize was at 400 UGX per kilo. Two months later, Judith was able to sell the 410 kgs of maize at 1,000UGX per kilo earning 410,000 UGX (120 USD). Judith also sold her six sacks of groundnuts and earned 720,000UGX (212 USD) part of which she used to pay her son’s school fees and buy a goat.

Judith has her eyes set on farming as a business having realised how profitable farming is. This year, she hired three acres of land and planted maize in one acre and groundnuts in the two acres. Judith who has already harvested 10 sacks of groundnuts expects to earn not less than 2 million Uganda shillings (590 USD) from her harvest.

Judith proudly displays her uprooted groundnut plant with over 40 pods

Judith proudly displays her uprooted groundnut plant with over 40 pods

Having realised good yields after adopting row planting for her groundnuts, Judith now finds it easy to weed and manage her groundnut fields while saving on seed. Her yields have since increased compared to her neighbours who still use traditional broad casting methods. Today, Judith talks with a broad smile on her face confident in her ability to provide food for her family and pay her children’s fees unlike before when her children were constantly being sent back home due to lack of school fees.

Judith has decided to support at least six of her neighbours every season to establish gardens like hers; she has promised to make time to train them on good agricultural practices so they can also improve on their yields. She also plans to open up more land and hopes to own a tractor one day so she can cultivate more land and hire it to her neighbours, a challenge she ranks as one of her community’s greatest limitation.

“Who am I that today I can earn a million shillings from my farming; have my own goat and food all year round; with children comfortably in school? Thank you SNV.” Judith adds as she thanks the team that visited her garden in Nyamwamba Division, Kasese district.

For more about SNV's work in Uganda