By Fiona Imbali
In Lwala village, Iteso sub-region, there’s a hidden treasure. The narrow winding paths lead you to a well hidden orange farm owned by three brothers, worth millions of shillings.
Omasia Nekion and his two brothers were trained by OAIC sometime in 2006 in Amuria district. “We were lucky to attend a training organised by OAIC more than 10 years ago on various participatory mechanisms of development that sought to enhance our livelihoods. We implemented some of the lessons learnt on our farm. Some crops performed well while others didn’t do well. After several other trainings and further research, we discovered that the soil type on our farm couldn’t support most of the crops we had tried. We then realized that oranges are a lucrative venture and since our soil could support them, we resorted to try them out. OAIC facilitators visited us in 2009 and we decided to go ahead and plant oranges,” stated Mr. Nekion.
The 8 acre piece of land currently has about 2,000 orange trees. Washington, Valencian, Hamlin as well as American Tangerines are some of the species present on the farm. At the onset, they had inter-cropped them with tomatoes, pineapples, passion fruits, groundnuts, cow peas, sim sim as well as egg plants but eventually eliminated all of them and decided to remain with oranges. Nevertheless, they are planning to include mangoes in the near future.
One tree is able to produce upto 3 bags of oranges if well catered for. There are three harvesting seasons; April, November and December. The 2000 trees produce approximately 1800 bags of oranges in a season. In a year they get about 5400 bags. Sometimes the bags are extended to bigger than normal bags (close to double the normal bags). For the expanded bags, they could sell them for Ugsh 35,000 (USD10) per bag during the November-December season. The February season is better as there is usually high demand and they sell for approximately Ugshs 80,000 (USD 21). If the 5400 bags each cost Ugshs 80,000, they make a profit of about Ugshs 432,000,000 (114, 480USD).
An orange tree takes 2 to 3 years to mature and harvesting commences thereafter. Its lifespan could be up to 50 years with good management practices such as weeding, pruning, spraying and other conservation measures such as digging a basin under them to ensure water conservation practices which help them to grow well. Apart from Uganda, they also export to Kenya and Rwanda.
The well organised brothers have seen the importance of proper organization for marketing purposes. For the number of crops they have, the brothers can leverage on that to easily bargain together as a family. Each brother has a map of the farm and they agree on how to harvest and share the proceeds. They however, face challenges such as pricing and marketing. Buyers also temper with measuring scales whilst middle men find opportunities to exploit them which prevents them from reaching the common person.
“We’re doing well as we’re well organised as a family which has enabled us to sell our fruits despite the day to day challenges. Our entire families are involved in the orange venture. In developed countries, they often spray their farms with hormones so that the flowers can remain dormant to ensure those farmers are able to get good harvests especially during the off-seasons, we don’t do that here. Our oranges are naturally grown. We are planning to start a cooperative society which shall be named Alwa
fruit cooperative society to enable us develop more as fruit farmers. We were previously in a union where we had agreed to sell oranges in Kilos for Ugsh 500 per kilo but the union failed to help us achieve that. Recently Africa Development Bank (AfDB) gave some farmers in this area some funds to enable them enhance value addition to their produce and start processing firms. However, more loans are required to actualize this dream,” stated Nekion.
Pests and diseases like gummosis, scale disease as well as leaf spot often hinder the fruits from performing optimally. They however, spray the plants every fortnight when a need arises. They employ about 20 people to carry out the spraying. Weeding is done every three months.
Nekion says that orange farming has enhanced their livelihoods and enabled them to pay school fees for their children in private schools, buy inputs as well as expand their land. They also do agroforestry where they have pine and teak trees. Currently they have about 1500 pine trees. One mature pine costs between 250,000 to 300,000 Ugshs while one teak costs Ugshs 80,000. In 15 years they’ll harvest and sell them both locally and export if a need arises.
They are currently making their own bricks which will be used to construct the brother’s permanent houses. The Nekion family has inspired their village and many have started planting fruit trees. “Our houses will be solar powered. We are also building water tanks that will cushion us against water problems during the dry seasons,” he stated.