Thriving in a male-dominated sector: meet Philomena a model dairy farmer


Philomena started her career in the dairy sector together with her husband back in 1977. She faced some struggles during her long career as a dairy farmer but today despite the odds she is considered as a model dairy farmer in Uganda. In 2016, her 80-hectares farm joined SNV's Inclusive Dairy Enterprise (TIDE) project and became a Practical Dairy Training Farm.

Rubyerwa Dairy Investments is a medium sized farm of 80 hectares situated in Rwanyamahembe, Sub County in Mbarara, one of SNV's targeted districts. The farm takes the name "Rubyerwa" from its three farms: Rubingo, Byembogo and Rwanyamahembe. What is unique about this farm is the person who owns it. Unlike many dairy farms in South Western Uganda mostly owned by men, Rubyerwa is owned by a woman - Philomena Kemijumbi Nshangano, former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Public Service. At first, Philomena’s involvement in the dairy business was mostly to support her husband's retirement plan. “I got married into a cattle-keeping family where the main source of income was from selling milk and dairy cows. My husband and I started planning our retirement in early 1972. We wanted to acquire a land in the countryside suitable for farming. As farming would have helped us supplement our income as public servants. Our goal was to breed and sell livestock,” Philomena recalls.

Philomena with her cows

Philomena with her cows

In 1977, Philomena and her husband invested in their first stock of 30 in-calf heifers. By 1979, many of them died due to poor management since Philomena and her husband were managing the farm remotely. Without getting discouraged, Philomena and her husband once again bought 30 in-calf cows in 1982 and this time the stock survived up to today. Unfortunately 7 years later a tragic event struck the Nshangano family, Philomena lost her husband and became a 45-years widow with 6 children, with the youngest being only 10 years old. Despite the loss of her husband, Philomena was determined to keep his retirement plan alive and transform their dairy farm into a thriving commercial dairy farm. In 1990, she adopted synchronisation and artificial insemination in dairy cattle with the support of the government.

This innovation led to a number of changes in order to make the breeding programme work: managing records to trace the genetics of all the animals, keeping good records of milk sales and a clear history of the different cows present in the farm. “It is through record keeping that we have been able to produce proven quality breeds of cattle that we now proudly market as best milker locally and in the entire region. This has strengthened our brand within the region and won us recognition and several awards from various fora,” Philomena adds_._ Some of her awards include: 2012 Celebrated woman dairy farmer by Uganda Crane Creameries Cooperative; 2013 African woman farmer award in Cape Town; 2014 and 2016 Platinum winner in the medium category of the national dairy quality awards by Dairy Development Authority; Model Farmer in the Excellence Awards for the best dairy cow of the year 2015 and 2016.

In 2014, the Dairy Development Authority awarded Rubyerwa with a 1,000 litre capacity milk cooler and a generator after winning the platinum award for being the best medium-sized dairy farm. In the Rubyerwa farm, cattle are fed under a rotational grazing system and are supplemented with silage, a green chopped fodder coming from their 10 acreages of Napier grass (in addition to what is purchased from out-growers) mixed with brewers’ waste. The ambition of the farm is to promote complementary feeding, distribute enough clean water and optimise breed quality for marketing of heifers and bulls. The farm is now regarded as a model farm with various governmental institutions and private sector visiting and carrying out benchmarking visits to the farm, and students interested in apprenticeships and training.

In 2016, the farm partnered with SNV to become one of the Practical Dairy Training Farms where farmers can learn how to turn their dairy farm into a profitable business. To become a suitable training centre, Philomena invested 80,000,000 UGX (18,600 Euro) in the farms to purchase furniture and complete certain facilities,  while SNV met 60% of the remaining costs. Philomena’s investment is starting to pay off. In the last year, her farm trained 144 dairy farmers earning 50,400,000 UGX (11,700 Euro) of the farm gross revenue only from the training activities. Philomena is now keeping records of the daily milk production and daily financial expenditure, income inflows and calving records, cattle health, breeding and artificial insemination treatments which are also used to train farmers in improving their record keeping practices. Philomena’s vision is to mentor farmers on how to turn their dairy farming into a business from which they can earn a living and a better income.

Read also how SNV's TIDE Dairy Project is transforming lives in Uganda and learn more about SNV's work in Uganda.