A fact finding visit at Kiryandongo Refugee settlement in western Uganda turned out to be fruitful with the discovery of a successful refugee farmer who majors in mixed farming on a small piece of land.
It is early morning and a beautiful golden sun warms up the Kiryandongo Refugee Camp, located in western Uganda.
Breaking the silence of the night, a cock crows and the birds start chirping. Mr Peter Ndungu Karanja steps out of his three-room semi-permanent house and heads to check on his goats.
"I like it when my goats are happy and eating well," he says. "I'm not happy when any of my goats look weak and unwell."
Forced to flee from his home in Kenya, Karanja, arrived in Kiryandongo in 2008 bringing with him nothing but his passion for business and determination to succeed against all odds.
Karanja left his village in Busia in 2008 after violence broke out between supporters of rival candidates following a disputed presidential election.
The 49-year-old farmer and father of four narrates to Seeds of Gold that his initial home is in Nakuru but as a young man he settled in Busia where he established a business of selling merchandise such as electronic items, clothes and shoes.
He was also a politician at the position of a counsellor in his village in Busia and when the violence broke, his family became a target.
In the course of events, his son who had gone to play at a nearby church premises was kidnapped and killed. To date, Karanja has not found his body something he says keeps traumatising him for which he swore never to go back to Kenya.
Asked if he communicates with his family back home, he says his only brother has since passed away. His wife left with the children and returned to her parents' home in Nakuru. His parents are also dead and so his family members are his children and wife plus the refugee community and friends he has established in Uganda.
Karanja says he tried to take refuge at a police post with his family in Busia but the situation was worsening and he decided to cross to Uganda and lived in Tororo for two months.
On May 1, 2008 he decided to move to Kiryandongo refugee settlement where he was allocated a plot 50 by 100 metres where he constructed a tent.
There were a number of non-governmental organisations including United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) team who came to sensitise him about the importance of farming.
"I remember the team gave me and other farmers improved maize seeds and seeds for various green vegetables including sukuma wiki. I developed interest in farming and began growing maize on half an acre and the other half I allocated for beans and vegetables to feed the family," he says.
Later, he negotiated for allocation of two acres of land which he was given because he began expanding his agriculture activity after two years of settlement.
Mr Karanja recalls that five years ago FAO team came on ground to organise them into farmer groups. His farmer group is called Ebenezer Farmers Association comprising 18 members. Initially they were 30 but the rest abandoned the group to pursue other initiatives.
FAO distributed goats to every farmer group in the settlement and Karanja's group was given 12 goats. When they multiplied, the group members were given goats four each. They are boer species.
Karanja purchased more local Mubende goat breeds in order to obtain mixed breed and now he has 36 goats. However once they keep producing and multiplying, he sells the mature ones.
A male goat is sold between Shs600,000 and Shs650,000 depending on the weight. He is rearing geese which are 38 in number and he sells the mature breeds at Shs370,000 per pair. He says his customers come from as far as Masindi, Hoima and Gulu districts among others.
Apart from the above agricultural initiatives, Karanja is growing beans and sukuma wiki for home consumption as well as for sale.
He says in most cases he grows sukuma wiki in dry season because the demand is high. Since he has National Water and Sewerage Corporation water tap, he is able to practise drip irrigation. From the half acre allocated for vegetable growing, he is able to obtain between Shs200, 000 and Shs300, 000 per season.
Mr Karanja is not only depending on subsistence farming but he has managed to hire 12 acres of land from host communities where he is growing maize on large scale.
He explained that with good agronomy practices, usually he is able to sell maize grain and obtain Shs800,000 from an acre. Usually he harvests about 140 bags which weighs about 120 kilogrammes each and Karanja sells each kilogramme, Shs700.
He has constructed his own house specifically for storage of his maize harvest.
Some of the farm management practices he has adopted is fencing his plots into half an acre in order to avoid the goats and geese from invading his vegetable and bean garden.
On his maize farm, he ensures that weeding is done twice and the tilling of the land and planting is done at the onset of the rainy season for purposes of obtaining bumper harvest.
He loves searching for information about best farm practices on social media. Before the Covid-19 lockdown, he used not to miss the agricultural trade show in Jinja because it is where he would learn and select thefarming initiative to engage in.
Mr Karanja contends that his life has changed completely for the better because through farm proceeds, he is able to educate his children.
From the money obtained from agricultural produce, he has been able to purchase three motorcycles which are operating boda boda business within Kiryandongo which he says is added daily income. As such he is no longer obtaining relief aid from WFP.
"A refugee is just like anyone else. A refugee is not a burden and can be self-reliant. We should welcome them," says Karanja.