Hard lessons for a ‘wannabe’ farmer!

Umuganura is a day to celebrate harvest and is characterised by merrymaking and sharing.

As we celebrated Umuganura in Rwanda, on Friday, my little sister Juliet, in the oil rich district of Hoima in mid-western Uganda was harassing me with calls; I knew what she wanted and decided I would return her call after the communal feasting in my hamlet of Niboye, Kicukiro.

Juliet’s story is rather amusing. As a kid, she was enemies with the hoe and soil and would huff throughout the day when we had to put-in the mandatory service on the farm every Saturday; often times, she would feign sickness just to avoid serving time on the farm.

But then adulthood applied its own changes and today, if the Juliet of 2018 met the one of 2000, the two would stare at each other with the unfriendly cold eyes of strangers. That is how much she has been transformed over the years. It is something I always tease her about.

So, that is how, earlier this year, Juliet pushed me into planting maize on part of our old man’s sprawling piece of land located about ten miles East of Hoima Municipality, on the footnotesof a famous hill known as ‘Musaija Mukuru’ (Old Man). The soil there is very fertile.

“Ken, you can make a lot of money, besides, you don’t have to stress as I will be here supervising the works on your behalf,” she cajoled. I gave in and signed off the venture.

On her advice, I decided to plant four acres of maize and I quickly set aside a small portion of my salary (which would translate into a reasonable amount after exchange into the shilling) to facilitate the works on the farm.

The labour is cheap. For Rwf 20,000 you get two pairs of men clearing an acre of thicket full of towering reeds and thick undergrowth. I wired Rwf 100,000 for Juliet to commission workers on the project.

A lot was going on at work so I wasn’t so much in my element. But it gave me pleasure in my heart to know that, finally, I was becoming a farmer; colleagues noticed a fresh wave of swag in my walk.

Normally, that meant I had a brilliant idea up my sleeve. When an idea excites you, it is easy to infect others with the excitement and their buy-in, ultimately. Oh! How I miss that life.

Anyway, I had so much energy that I would take the stairs to the 2nd, 3rd and 5th floors to attend meetings or get my marketing communication memos signed off by my principals.

I didn’t hesitate to explain the source of my positive smugness whenever curious colleagues asked; I would proudly tell-away, tales of my newfound love for farming, blablabla.

Honestly, I was proud of myself and I made some of my colleagues feel somehow jealous of what I was doing, some started looking at 20 Heineken bottles in terms of an acre of a maize garden.

But on Friday…this past Friday, I wasn’t the proud wannabe farmer that I was in February. At Niboye, the communal feasting was winding down, I trudged out of the hall to find a quiet corner where I could return Juliet’s call…reluctantly.

Me: Yes, Juliet, how are you? Sorry I missed your calls I was in a community meeting…

Juliet: It is alright. Ken, I needed to remind you about the maize. They’re all dry and ready for harvest. I have booked the men to do the work and we need at least Ugsh120,000 (Rwf30,000)…

Me: That is okay. Will find the money and send it tomorrow. By the way how much is a kilogram of maize at the current market price?

Juliet: Ken, I know this will break your heart but I must answer your question. A kilo is between 150 and 200 shillings (Rwf50) at the moment because there is so much maize out here…

Well, that truly broke my heart. It is not my first heartbreak of the year. But the Kabalega trace in me keeps saying, ‘conquer or die, conquer or die’ and it has become a permanent rhyme in my head, lately. I don’t want to die, yet. So, I must conquer. But it appears, not on the farm!

It is my first season. The soils have done their part, rewarding me with a handsome harvest. But I am not alone. Everyone has maize. So, the markets have reacted. Supply is high. Demand is high too but the price is down because there is surplus supply. The farmer must pay the price.

“In total we need 300,000 shillings to harvest and sort the maize,” Juliet told me. But at Rwf50 per kilo, that means I am to invest more than I expect to earn from the entire harvest.

If my garden was in Rwanda, I would have benefited from the government nationwide storage facilities where bumper harvest is kept for when the prices normalise.

Email: kenagutamba@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are of the author.