“All along, we had been crying for investors to come to Acholi to invest in our vast farming land. The best way forward is for the investor to talk directly to the land owners. With this kind of arrangement, Acholi landscape will change for the better in the next ten years”-legislator, Gilbert Olanya.
AMURU-UGANDA: Technology seems to have invaded every area of modern life and farming is no exception for this trend. Just as tractors replaced ox-ploughs and draft horses as the main energy source to drive planting and harvesting equipments, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) has replaced human eyes and experienced guesswork in tractor guidance, field location, leveling and a number of other tasks.
GPS, along with other modern guidance technology and automatic steering systems can place furrows in a field with millimeter precision. Once a field is ploughed, GPS information can be used to control accurate seed placement within furrows.
This is exactly what we found out at Omer Farming Company Limited on Monday, April 4, 2016 when a group of journalists accompanied local leaders who had gone to visit the farm.
The lines of the maize plantation, measuring exactly 76 centimeters in between lines and 22 centimeters between crops are exceptionally straight even when the lines cross streams or rivers.
“We use Global Positioning System (GPS) to operate the tractors which we use for planting the crops instead of using ropes to straighten the lines. We trained the local community members to operate the machines we have here in the farm”, says farm manager Mr. Linton Brimblecombe.
This is Omer Farming Company Limited which is located about 84 kilometers, three hours drive from Gulu town on a bumpy road. It sits on a 6,000 hectares of land in Amuru district. It was established in 2014 as a result of a partnership agreement between the family of the late Yaconi Ojwang and the investor under the chairmanship of Mr. Randy Sohnchen, an Australian national on a fifty-fifty percent arrangement.
The investor has since injected $3.5 million dollars as capital to the project while the Ojwang’s family members offered the land to set up the farm, which has been operational for 14 months now.
“We are not making any profit yet, but recovering what we injected into the farm. We hope to begin to make profits in the next planting season”, explains Chief Executive Officer of the project, Mr. Randy.
The company injects $140 dollars for every acre of land planted with maize but reaps $500 dollars per acres harvested, making a profit of $360 dollars for every acre of land planted with maize. This means the company can earn up to $2.16 million dollars per season if only they could plough all the 6,000 hectares of the farm land with maize only.
According to Mr. Christopher Dwala, a member of the Ojwang’s family, who is also an employee of the farm, he first got in contact with Mr. Randy in 2013 when they were still working in an organization and introduced the subject of partnership to him.
“I convinced him to come to northern Uganda and see for himself the farm land. He came and took a sample of the soil and within a few months, he called to seal the deal. Our land (farm) is not for sale. It is a partnership agreement for an initial period of five years running program, where we provide the land and the investor provides the capital”, says Christopher Dwala.
According to the area Member of Parliament, Mr. Gilbert Olanya, he decided to lead local leaders and journalists on a fact finding mission to get acquainted with challenges the farm is facing.
“All along, we had been crying for investors to come to Acholi to invest in our vast farming land. The best way forward is for the investor to talk directly to the land owners. With this kind of arrangement, Acholi landscape will change for the better in the next ten years”, says Gilbert Olanya.
One of the most critical challenges identified by CEO, Mr. Randy Sohnchen is that parliament should pass the law on Genetically Modified (GM) Crop seeds to increase “productivity” food nutrient and control pests.
“Seed genetics is very important. There is a lot of miss- information on GM crop seeds. We must have GM crop seed law here to increase productivity, food nutrients and control pests. The absence of the law is stopping Uganda from world class investors and doing business with big companies”, says the CEO, Mr. Randy.
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnologies. It is a set of technology used to change the genetic makeup of cells including the transfer of genes within and cross species boundaries to produce improved or novel organisms. New DNA may be inserted in host genome by first isolating and copying the genetic materials of interest using molecular cloning methods to generate DNA sequence, or by synthesizing the DNA and then inserting this construct into the host organisms.
According to Wikipedia, the first GMO were bacteria generated in 1973 and GM nice in 1974. Glofish, the first GMO designed as a pet was first sold in the United States in December 2003.
Other challenges faced by the farm includes lack of power (electricity), poor road network, communication facilities like telephone networks, corruption and additional taxation which tend to discourage legitimate investors from the land.
The President of Uganda’s oldest political party, the Democratic Party (DP), Mr. Norbert Mao, says he was impressed by the investment and urged the partners to build trust in each other. He urged them to emulate the late Dr. Lucillie Corti and her husband, the late Pierre Corti who loved the Acholi so much in the health care field to the extent that the community offered a large chunk of land to build an educational facility in her memory.
An elder, Mr. Micheal Ocan appealed to the farm management to open up their farm to train Gulu University students of Agriculture and allow students of secondary schools to visit the farm on study tours.
This is the second large-scale farm in Amuru visited by the leaders after “Gem Farm” which intends to come out with “Attiak Sugar” in 2017 in Attiak sub-county.