Uganda: Widow finds success with soybeans

| August 17, 2015

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After her husband died, Kulkeria Onono found it difficult to farm on her own. Mrs. Onono and her husband had grown cotton as their main cash crop. Now 69 years old, she recalls, “We grew cotton ever since we got married but never made any [progress]—our capital kept on dwindling [as] pesticides became more and more expensive.”

When her husband died in 2007, the grandmother of four found life hard. She was forced to pick up odd jobs to make ends meet. But after a neighbour succeeded with soybeans, Mrs. Onono decided to try growing the crop herself.

In 2013, Mrs. Onono stopped planting cotton and started growing soybeans on the two hectares that surround her home in the village of Te-Oburu. The village lies in Lira District, about 390 kilometres north of Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

Photo: Mrs. Kulkeria Onono in her field of soybeans, ready for harvest.  Credit: Geoffrey Ojok

Photo: Mrs. Kulkeria Onono in her soybeans plantation ready for harvest. Credit: Geoffrey Ojok

To Mrs. Onono’s delight, her soybeans yielded well and she made more money than she would have made with cotton. She says: “I harvested 480 kilograms of beans, and I earned over 1,000,000 shillings [US$320] that year. I used part of the money to employ other people to plough more land for soybeans.” Since then, Mrs. Onono has continued to grow soybeans with great success.

Mr. Guido Okwir is the senior extension officer at the Lango Organic Organization in northern Uganda. He says: “The variety of soybeans, N1, is one of the best crops a farmer can grow. It takes only 90 days to mature, and so a farmer can grow two crops in a year. The [nitrogen-rich] root nodules increase soil fertility for the next crop.”

There is a huge demand for soybeans in Uganda. Pramukha Rakish is the general manager of the Mount Meru oil processing company in Lira District. He explains, “We need up to 10 tonnes of soybeans every day to supply the factory. We produce 9,500 litres of cooking oil alone each day.”

But it’s difficult for some farmers to find enough seed. Yekosofat Odongo is the field extension officer for Community Connector, a local NGO that trains farmers in Lira District. Community Connector helps farmers find markets for their soybeans but, according to Mr. Odongo, “The challenge is … buying enough [quality] seeds to plant [in their fields].”

Mrs. Onono is fortunate to have enough seed, and growing soybeans has improved her livelihood. After her husband’s death, she wore a permanent frown, but now she smiles much more often. Everything is going well for her. She says: “I harvested 800 kilograms of N1 soybeans this season, and earned [US$530]. I bought a cow which has already produced a calf. I have started to build a three-room house in Te-Oburu village, and I am paying fees for two [grandchildren] to attend secondary school. I don’t need to worry anymore because [now] I can get what I want.”