Kampala — THE life of Gershom Ndyabahika of Kabale district has been full of ups and downs. The only constant was that he never gave up. Throughout his school life for instance, he used to split firewood and sell to hotels and other rich people in the village to raise school fees.
"My parents never had any source of income that is why I resorted to splitting trees for firewood. I would also collect passion fruits which I sold to the neighbours and in several markets," explained Ndyabahika.
Several years after he graduated from the university, he started looking for a job as a young graduate but failed to get one. He later decided to join politics thinking that he would become better off but lost all the stock from his shops to voters.
Ndyabahika then resigned as a LC3 chairperson in 2000- a post he had held for 10 years. He then signed a contract with United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a field officer in charge of making energy saving stoves and planting trees in Kabale district.
Later on, while executing his activities, he realised that most people wanted timber trees, but did not know where to get them so he started a tree nursery as a business in his compound.
"Together with my family, we would pot the soil into bags and then plant seeds in it. At the beginning I was very lucky. I had support from the Kabale District Agriculture officer who gave me sh1m (which was government money) to help me promote tree growing in the district," a jovial Ndyabahika explained.
With time, the demand for the seedlings picked-up and the buyers who visited his nursery advised him on how best to improve on his nursery garden. In 2003, he hosted guests at his farm and it was at this point that he got the most striking idea of grafting fruit trees.
He later realised that dealing in seedlings was a good investment that is why he decided to enrol for a forestry course in Namanve in Wakiso district in 2004 were he enriched his understanding about trees.
"The demand for the seedlings later became too high so I started to train other farmers to supply seedlings and help meet the increasing demand," said Ndyabahika.
Today, he boasts of several seedlings in his nursery beds. He has 5,000 seedlings of avocado, 10,000 guava seedlings, 50,000 pines, 30,000 cyprus, 2000 prunus Africana, 100,000 Kiapples, 2,000 apples, 20,000 grapes, 5,000 gravaria and 6,000 oranges.
"I have enough seedlings for the ongoing planting season," said Ndyabahika.
The price for pears and apples cost sh5,000 each, while avocado, oranges and grapes each costs sh2,500. Other tree seedlings range between sh200 to sh500.
By the time of my visit, he had planted 600,000 pine trees both on his personal land and the other planted on the National Forestry Authority's forestry reserve in Mafuga.
Ndyabahika said upon completion of his course he become an advocate of agro-forestry in the whole district. "I have spoken in churches, at burials and other public ceremonies," he said.
Because of his continued advocacy for commercial tree production, Ndyabahika has since become a consultant for the district NAADS coordinators on market issues and through the sell of seedlings he has managed to educate his children and meet other expenses.
He also boasts of being a qualified farmer with letters of recommendation from recognised institutions like the National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO) secretariat and other research centres.
Ndyabahika believes that it was mainly due to this background and his outstanding tree growing enterprise that cuts across a number of tree species that, he emerged the overall winner of the Environmental Alert's Annual Awards in 2006.
He was also a runner up in the 2003-2004 National Enterprise Award. He won the individual category for being an outstanding individual in tree planting.
"I am so proud about Environmental Alert (EA); they have exposed me to a number of issues and given me a number of contracts. Today I am carrying out a number of trainings for their farmers, which wasn't the case before," he explained.
He informed me that he had just signed a contract worth sh80m with Wakiso NAADS programme. "I am supposed to train their farmers in different nursery tree management and establishment practices," he explained.
At the time of winning the award (November 2006) Ndyabahika had 25,000 grafted avocadoes; 20,000 grapes, 1,000 seedlings of Apples and had planted over 200,000 pine trees on his family land.
His pine plantation's boundary is marked with Prunas Africana trees and in between the trees; Kiapple hedges are planted as fire control measures.
Today, he says his plantation has registered several benefits to the community, including providing firewood at no financial cost especially when pruning of the trees is being done.
He also employs people of Kabale especially during planting, pruning and weeding because this is when a lot of labour is required.
Ndyabahika has also trained more of his neighbours to adopt tree planting. About 5km away from his home is Monday Fredrick of Nyabishabi parish, Kyanamira sub county, Ndora West who decided to leave his petty businesses to turn to farming as a profitable business. Much as he had received a lot of advice to invest in agro forestry, it was until 2001 after listening to a radio programme about sustainable farming that he was motivated to venture into farming as a profitable business.
In 2002 he prepared his land for the growing of fruit trees and started with avocado.
In 2003 Monday went ahead and fenced off his land with calliandra because besides being used as a fence, it would still be a fodder crop for the animals. He then proceeded with the planting of different seedlings.
Monday started his orchard with only sh5m but he was aware that this money was not enough. He had high hopes of getting financial help from the government and by mid 2003, he had nothing yet there was a lot of work that still needed to be done.
He then decided to borrow some money and towards the end of 2003, a huge plant of goose berries (Entuntunu) grew naturally in his garden, and this motivated him to plant more of the goose berry fruits.
In June 2004 he started to harvest and supply the goose berries to Kabale markets selling at sh700 per kg and in Kampala and Mbarara at sh1,000. From the sale of goose berries he earned about sh5m, which helped him pay off all his debts.
In 2005 he started to sell fruit tree scions and since then his income has increased progressively. In 2006 he harvested 10 bags of avocadoes, and was also able to sell 5kgs of apples each at sh3,000.
Like Ndyabahika, Monday was forced to sacrifice his bigger pieces of land far away where his orchard farm is located to people in exchange for land near his orchard to enable him expand.
Today, Monday employs eight people who work basically in the nurseries.
Nurseries are seed multiplication centres for a variety of trees like apples, pines, prunas africana, grapes, avocadoes, kiapple and gravellier.
Ndyabahika has also gone ahead to plant climbing beans and also erected bee hives in his pine trees.
From the sale of his climbing beans, he is capable of earning over sh6m annually simply because he always plants his beans when it is off season and his garden is located near the stream.
He employees elderly people particularly women in his nurseries because he has since learnt that they are the only dependable people and less committed.
Name: Gershom Ndyabahika.
Location: Kabale Town Council.
Land: 144 acres planted with pine trees.
Enterprises: Pine trees and fruit trees.
Wining formula: Hard work and advice.