4 March 2009

Uganda: Karamuzi Beat the Challenges of Widowhood to Become Model Farmer


Kampala — The accident that claimed her husband in 1997 left her a changed woman.

With five children to take care of single-handed, Perry Karamuzi realised she had to put aside self-pity and move on. "It was a challenge but I knew I had to cope," she says. "My husband, Paddy, had gone without preparing me to manage the family. I had five children."

Now her first-born has completed his Master's degree in agricultural economics and the other children have completed university, with the last born in S.4.

Karamuzi did not look back; she faced the challenges that came with widowhood and is now a successful farmer in Kyeitembe, Bushenyi district.

As you approach her home, the cabbages planted in neat rows on the edge of her banana plantation give the picture of the type of woman you are about to meet.

Her husband did not leave her with many resources. She had no job to sustain the family but Karamuzi has managed to make it through farming.

After they got married in 1978, her husband asked her to leave her teaching job and stay home to look after the farm. "There was a lot to do here so my husband suggested that I stop teaching and take care of the small business we had in Bushenyi town," Karamuzi explains.

After two years in business, things did not work out and she decided to concentrate on farming. "If I had stayed in town, my family would not have had anything to fall back on after the death of my husband," she says.

On a 10-acre piece of land, Karamuzi has several farming projects which include about five acres of banana plantation and two acres of forest. She practises inter-cropping in the banana plantation and grows green vegetables, cabbages, avocados, apples and pumpkins.

Karamuzi had a number of Friesian cows but she sold them for school fees and remained with one which she zero-grazes. She gets 15 litres of milk from her heifer. "The benefits in zero-grazing are many," she says. "A farmer who practises zero-grazing will never lack manure for their crops." She also has 10 local breed goats.

At Karamuzi's home there is no wastage; she puts everything to use. She uses the waste from the farm to produce bio-gas which she uses for cooking and lighting. She started the bio gas project in partnership with the Bushenyi District Farmers' Association and their Chinese partners. Karamuzi's home was selected so that other farmers could learn from her.

"I receive farmers from as far as Kenya and Tanzania who come for training in bio-gas production," she says with an air of satisfaction. To produce bio-gas one has to collect cow dung daily and let it decompose.

Because she has readily-available manure from her animals, Karamuzi gets 60 bunches of matooke from her plantation every month. Each bunch goes for sh5,000 to sh8,000.

She has educated her children with the proceeds from her agricultural products. "I have been able to pay back the loans I got to pay school fees because I am assured of a daily income from my agricultural produce, especially the greens," Karamuzi says.

Because of her hard work, in 1994 the district nominated her as a model farmer and she was chosen to host the World Food Programme celebrations.

The then US ambassador who officiated at the function offered Karamuzi's eldest son a university scholarship. He paid fees at Makerere University for two years before he was transferred. "After the ambassador's transfer, I thought I would not make it but I took up the task and my son completed his studies," she says.

In 1999, Karamuzi was named Bushenyi's 'Madam UNFA' (Uganda National Farmers Association). She emerged the third-best farmer at national level and won a study tour to Kenya and Tanzania.

"During those tours, I saved my allowances to pay school fees for my children." Currently, Karamuzi earns about sh400,000 a month from her farming projects. She says she is not worried about the market because whatever she produces is bought and she does not incur any transport costs because the buyers find her at home.

She, however, says she faces the challenge of fluctuating agricultural prices and maintaining workers. Karamuzi has also trained her neighbours in improved farming practices. "We have learnt a lot from her," says Nathan Mugisha, a neighbour.

Recently, women groups from Rubaga North, led by MP Betty Kamya, came to tour her farm. Karamuzi says she has managed to make her projects gainful without any assistance from the Government. "While at a function, President Yoweri Museveni was impressed by the bunch of banana I had taken to the function and promised to visit my farm but I have never seen him," she recalls.

She says there is money in agriculture because one is sure of getting market. "People must eat and they need food," she says. "If you accept advice from agriculturalists, you can learn how to get maximum benefits from a small piece of land," she says.

She might not earn millions like others but with her modest earnings, Karamuzi has extended a hand to help two orphans.

She says widows face many challenges and appeals to the Government to support them. She also urges widows not to give up. "I encourage widows not to lose hope. The death of a spouse does not mean an end to everything. Continue from where your husband left and fulfil your dreams," she says.


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