Uganda: Farmer turns swamp into gold

| May 18, 2015

Download this story

Patrick Oyuku retired from his job as a prison warden in 2006. He wanted to start a farm in his village, but he had no land. He recalls, “I was denied a loan to buy land … because I didn’t have enough collateral.”

Mr. Oyuku is from Apedi, a village in the Oyam District of northern Uganda. It is difficult to find farmland here because of the increasing population. And local people have always ignored the agricultural potential of the swampland which surrounds the village.

With no cash to buy a plot, Mr. Oyuku decided to plant rice in the swamp. He explains: “I cleared the thick bush … and I turned it into a farm.”

Mr. Oyuku now cultivates two hectares of land. He uses an ox plough to prepare the soil. Although he has solved his land issues, he now faces a different problem – birds love to feast on his crops. He says, “I am always busy scaring birds from the rice when [it is] ready for harvest.”

Mr. Oyuku grows three crops of rice a year. He sells his harvest locally and at markets in the nearby towns of Loro and Lira.

His success was noted by other landless farmers. Olum Dennis lives in the nearby parish of Adigo. Like Mr. Oyuku, Mr. Olum cleared swampland to grow rice. Now he earns enough to pay his children’s school fees, and has also started planning a new house.

Abila Kisembo is a neighbour of Mr. Oyuku. He farms on land near Apedi and is expanding his farm by clearing unclaimed swampland. He employs villagers to do the hard work of removing the tangled vegetation before the land is prepared for cultivation.

For Mr. Kisembo, the major obstacles are waterlogged soil, cold weather and birds. He says: “From May to November each year … birds [can] destroy my rice in the gardens before harvest.” During these months, he and his family have to spend their days in the fields. They use catapults to fire stones at the birds when they come to feed.

Since retiring, Mr. Oyuku has built a house and bought a car, and he pays for his children to attend school. He is happy with the way things have turned out. He says, “[I earn] more than I used to get while in the Uganda Prison Service. I used to get 8 million shillings [$2,670 U.S.] per year as salary, but now farming has opened my way to riches.”

Photo: Mr. Oyuku and his wife and children harvesting rice. Credit: Williams Moi