When President Yoweri Museveni visited Lango in 2012 to officiate over Lango Conference, he advised communities across northern Uganda to engage in commercial farming.
President Museveni highlighted enterprises like fish farming, fruit growing, chicken rearing, goats rearing, pig rearing and beekeeping among other enterprises.
The conference was aimed at pushing the development agenda that included tarmacking Rwekunyo-Apac-Lira-Acholibur road and opening Lira airfield at Anai.
Nick Obot, 43, was one of the people who attended that conference and was inspired by the words of wisdom from the President.
“I was inspired when I downloaded the speech from the State House website and read it,” Obot explains from his farm at Ober Kampala in Ojwina division, Lira municipality. He had access to some land, near a swamp which could accommodate fish ponds.
Obot works with Agency for Sustainable Rural Transformation (AFSRT), a community-based organiaation which is targeting empowerment of the rural communities in northern and eastern regions through provision of appropriate information, skills and resources for equitable support of grassroots communities.
To swing into active implementation of the President’s advice, Obot chose fish farming and started using part of his saving to construct fish ponds at his home in Ober, Lira.
“I selected fish farming because I realised that while fish has got a big market here in Lango, the sources of fish are not that many,” he says.
It was February 2013, approximately a year after the President’s message, when Obit established the first two fish ponds near the swamp. The fish pond measured 20m x 20m.
“I utilised the available water in swam to pump it into the fish pond,” he says.
He started by stocking with 100 tilapia fish. But of course, the first stock was only meant to see if fish can actually grow in these ponds.
“They grow fast because whenever I went to feed them, you could see their sizes,” Obot says.
After realising that the project will yield some benefits, Obot used his saving and the little he had made in his first to construct three more ponds.
Clearing the site, measuring, use of local labour for construction, feeding worker, stocking and procuring feeds cost Obot sh14m.
Obot procured about 4,000 fingerlings from Obong Oleke Farm in Amach sub-county and the government’s programme of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) gave him an additional 1,500 fingerlings.
In the five ponds, Obot dropped about 4,000 fingerlings of catfish and tilapia after he procured each at sh200 and sh300 respectively, translating into approximately sh2m.
He got the money Obot from his savings and selling citrus seedlings.
Today, Obot maintains over 6,000-7,000 catfish and tilapia in the ponds. He wants them to grow bigger to over 2kg, which will give him more money. The five fish ponds are over a total of 2,000 square metres.
Obot initially understocked the ponds because he did not get technical advice from an expert (district fisheries officer Peter Aryong).
He used to stock each pond with 300 fingerlings, yet it was support to have at least 1,000.
“We were understocking and the construction did not meet the recommended guidelines, but later we got technical advice from the district fisheries officer, and then we improved,” he Obot says.
However, the biggest mistake that led to the collapse of his fish enterprise was the digging of the ponds. The ponds were placed in a lower part of the farm and when serious flooding came, they were washed away in 2019 and the fish disappeared into a nearby river.
“I literary saw the end of the world. I did not know what to do,” he says. But farming had been his job for many years so he had to find a new enterprise to take him through.
Obot has since switched to poultry farming and currently has over 25,00 layers on his far.
Switching to poultry
Obot, using savings from the fish, switched to poultry. He realised that for the new project to succeed, he would construct a poultry unit and prepare to procure feeds (maize bran, soybean and sunflower cake). He constructed a temporary poultry unit at his farm at the cost of sh2.5m and secure some money to buy feeds.
Obot procured 300 birds (kuroilers) at sh3,200 from a poultry farmer in Lira and he started rearing them. Unfortunately, he lost 190 due to poor feeding, management and disease outbreak since had limited knowledge on poultry.
“Out of 110 which survived, I struggle with them for some months and decided to sell them off because I wanted to try layers,” Obot says.
He says since he had interest in layers, he started reading literature on it and paying visits to several farms, including the one for Kuku Chicks, which is one of the biggest suppliers of poultry in the country.
“Emmanuel Akeny of City Farm and I wanted them to start supplying us, but before we wanted to visit and interact with farmers they supplied to ascertain if they are not facing any problem with their products,” Obot says.
Obot and his colleague discovered that the growth of Kuku Chicks was successful and farmers were happy with the products.
Beginning with layers
“I placed my order of 800 birds; each of them was given to me at sh3,500,” Obot says. This means Obot spent sh2.8m to purchase the birds, and an additional sh500,000 for transport.
“I started managing the poultry, but I lost 90 during brooding.” After three months, the birds started laying eggs and every day he could collect like 10-13 trays.
On seeing the benefits, Obot developed an idea to expand poultry keeping due to its high demand of eggs in the local market, hotels and among chapatti makers.
With money from another source, Obot constructed three poultry units that could accommodate at least 5,600 chicken, although he has only 1,515 birds.
The structures that cost him sh35m were made using iron sheets, chicken mesh and timber.
“I have already placed another order of 2,500 birds and I expect it to be delivered soon,” Obot says.
Obot could sell a tray of eggs at sh9,000.
“I raised about sh2m within four months and paid part of the money I had borrowed. With time, I realised another sh8.2m,” he says.
“I again ordered from Kuku Chicks 1,500 birds in August 2020,” he says. With high demand of layers, the company delayed to supply the birds.
However, according to Obot, they brought the birds two months ago and they have started laying eggs. “I have started reaping the benefit.”
Each week, Obot collects 20 trays, but with the big number and consistent good feeding, he is expecting between 30-40 trays daily. Which means within a short time, he will be able to raise 1,050 trays a month, and if he sells each at sh9,000, he will realise a gross of sh9.4m.
“We have contributed to improving the nutrition needs of the community, giving out affordable organic eggs and provide services like training for interested poultry farmers at no cost,” he says.
Obot says he buys soya, sunflower cake and maize bran and mixes his own feed. “I buy concentrate from Kafuka Feeds and prepare my feeds locally.”
To ensure proper poultry management, Obot says they disinfect everyone visiting the farm, daily monitoring of birds, feed them well, administer vaccines on time, identify disease outbreaks, clean the drinkers and hold daily meeting with the workers.
Steven Okello the farm manager, says he ensured proper feed formulation, brooding and identify disease outbreak.
Obot is luring the communities around the farm to get embrace organic manure (chicken droppings) to grow vegetable.
“I just give the chicken droppings free of charge to my neighboors to create demand on the market,” Obot says, adding that they ensure that the environment remains clean and attractive.
Obot lists some of the challenges as high cost of chicks due to the high demand for the layers, low price of eggs during lockdown, lack of a water source, expensive and poor quality vaccines.
Other challenges include poultry diseases, limited capital, high cost of feeds and limited technical veterinary experts.
Risk and mitigation
Obot says some poultry diseases like Gomboro can have up to 80% mortality rate. You can literally lose all your investment.
“This can be avoided by strictly adhering to the vaccination regimes by administering the right vaccine at the right time,” he says.
“For that reason, I have decided to hire a veterinary officer to come and provide the service,” Obot says.
Obot spends sh400,000 monthly to pay the veterinary officer, sh1.2m on 1,000kg of feeds which last one month, sh60,000 on bodaboda to transport feeds and sh170,000 to pay wages for the two workers.
“I have resorted to use them because I have realized the quality of their work is good and they are so technical,” he said.
Obot has employed farm manager, Steven Okello and one other worker. Their salary ranges from sh100, 000 to sh70, 000 and beside they are given accommodation, meals and medical care.
Obot is not selfish with knowledge he acquired on poultry keeping. He trains and advises the community who are interested in poultry keeping for free.
Two retired civil servants of Lira district – Otto Ario and Bob Erem – are among the benefiaries and have started poultry rearing.
“Otto has started with 300 birds and his colleague has 250. They very happy and expecting to reap the benefits soon,” Obot says.
Security of the farm
Obot has deployed two dogs to man the security of the farm and fenced the newly-constructed poultry unit.
To succeed in poultry farming, you should give your total commitment to every single detail of the farm activity. Any form of negligence can lead to losses.
You should equally be committed to continuous learning.
“I didn’t go to school to learn poultry keeping, but I read a lot and visit progressive farmers,” he says.
Obot says the farm sits on one acre of land which he purchased 14 years ago at the cost of sh5.2m and designated it for farming.
Obot has two children (Levi Gen and Blessing Atwero both in Kampala school) and during holidays they spend most of their time on the farm.
“During holidays they concentrate in collecting eggs, giving feeds and water,” he says.
The farm keeps production records, feed record, sales, vaccination and treatment records and those on expenditure.
“All these help us to work on the challenges in case of any,” Obot says.
Obot says he wants to fence the whole farm, stock 4,000 birds in phases, improve on water and power systems, install a CCTV camera to monitor the farm, construct a store for keeping eggs and start training youth on poultry farming.