Rural youths in Lira district have started to embrace farming as a fulltime occupation and business. In the case of NICK OBOT, he went a notch higher to use his fish farm to train and lift the youths out of poverty, writes Arthur Matsiko.
In Ober village, Ojwina division, Lira municipality, Obot is a role model for the youths. A teacher by training, he has worked with various NGOs such as Uganda Society for Disabled Children, International Rescue Committee and Agency for Sustainable Rural Transformation.
His tasks entailed teaching people about farming for sustainable income. However, he had not realized he could practice farming until 2013 when he invested Shs 3.5 million from his savings to dig two fish ponds near his home. He bought tilapia and catfish fingerlings which have kept on multiplying, thereby expanding his ponds to six on 1,200 square metres of land.
With time, his efforts caught the eye of district fisheries officer, John Peter Ariong, who enrolled him to benefit from Africa Solidarity Trust Fund (ASTF) in 2014.
ASTF is an innovative Africa-led fund to support development initiatives on the continent. Its goal is to strengthen food security by assisting countries and their regional organizations to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, eliminate rural poverty and manage natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Funded by Angola and Equatorial Guinea, the project is being implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN.
So far, 12 youths have been trained about construction and management of fish ponds, raising citrus seedlings, rabbit rearing, fruits and banana growing.
Indeed, when the ASTF steering committee visited Uganda on January 19, 2018, they were led to Obot's farm. The team comprised FAO's country representative Alhaji Jallow and Andrew Alio, the assistant commissioner, Aquaculture in the ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, among other officials.
Ariong told The Observer that Obot's farm was singled out because "he is well focused".
"I identified him because his farm is targeting training the youths to tap into farming," said Ariong. "Nick had been using his money; so, when I identified him, I enrolled him to benefit from ASTF and was facilitated to improve on his farm and engage more youths."
Through the project, Obot has been trained to excavate ideal ponds. He has also been facilitated to visit fish farms countrywide, provided with fingerlings, fish feed and market linkages.
Here, we found 10 youths in the nursery beds of citrus, while others were feeding the fish and clearing weeds around the ponds.
"My aim is to ensure that young people become financially independent. Whenever they come here, they learn and single out what they are interested in. In the end, I want everybody to own a farm of their interest. This will eventually help solve poverty amongst the youths," Obot said.
Among his trainees is Joshua Ogwok. Having joined Obot's farm in November 2015 with 10 colleagues, Ogwok was looking for what would occupy him during his O-level vacations.
"I had some rabbits before I came to this farm, but when I learnt more about farming, I kept buying more rabbits," Ogwok says.
Last year, he sold about 70 rabbits to road constructors in Lira but never satisfied the demand.
"But I later stopped selling after somebody told me that [Kampala] Serena hotel was looking for somebody who can supply 100 rabbits a week," Ogwok adds.
Now he looks to expand his farm thanks to inspiration from Obot. He talks of Obot as a generous person who keeps encouraging the youths to identify their interests in farming "and he keeps supporting us whenever we call upon him".
Besides the fish ponds, Obot has a plan for a poultry farm which he intends to use as another training ground for the youths.
"But this plan is still on paper as I am saving towards its implementation," Obot said. "After raising at least Shs 3.4m, I will be ready to take off so that I can support the youths to start their own and become independent."
He has also acquired more land in Alebtong town council to expand his farm and recruit more youths into farming. Upon hearing his plans, Cecilia Okono, the Ambassador of Equatorial Guinea in Italy, who donated $3,000 (approximately Shs 10.8m) to Obot.
To this, Jallow urged Obot to keep investing because "benefits come from working hard".
"Everything grows in Uganda; and you can do anything here. Young people should learn from leaders like this one [Obot]," Jallow added.
While ASTF has phased out after three years of operation, Obot has to deal with the long droughts that affect his projects.
"When the ponds dried out, we had to dig a reservoir to help us pump the water into the ponds," he said, adding that the reservoir also dried up due to the dry spell. To tackle this, he has drilled underground water and installed a water tank.
In a separate interview, Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja, the minister for Agriculture, told The Observer government is introducing alternative water sources to counter dry spells affecting fish farmers.
"We are constructing 20 million-litre tanks [countrywide]," said Sempijja. "We know that there is of course drought; now we have improved on our technologies and even the size of the reservoirs."
Obot sells a kilo of fish at Shs 8,000 to the surrounding community, hotels and restaurants in Lira town. But he admits demand is still higher than supply - the reason he keeps expanding.
To those interested in fish farming, Obot says planning and dedication are paramount.
"You need to take time and learn by visiting people who are already in this trade. As you start out, you need to do what you can manage," he says, adding that he looks to having at least 50 youths managing their farms in the next five years as a result of his mentorship.