When many think of which farming venture to invest in, poultry, food crops, citrus fruits and livestock cross their mind.
It’s only a few like Brian Natwijuka that took a different route. Natwijuka chose to invest in pasture growing as a way of helping farmers get the right breeds of pasture to feed their animals for better yields.
The 24-year-old entrepreneur started the pasture business three years ago, after joining Makerere University.
He says he came into the system after the Consortium for enhancing University Responsiveness toGrowing fodder is good business Development (CURAD) presented an opportunity to support any agriculture student that was interested in pastures.
“When I got the opportunity, I shared with my friends but we were advised to do more research about pasture. This was to help us understand things about production, the type of pastures that the person would get a good market for and the costs of production involved,” he recalls.
It is from the pasture project that Natwijuka picked inspiration to continue growing pasture and produce seeds for farmers and at the same time produce hay. He started with four acres. CURAD gave him Shs2.5m per acre as starting capital but he was tasked to look for market which he successfully did. He then purchased different pasture seeds and planting material from NARO.
He bought 40 kilogrammes of chloris at Shs45,000 per kilogramme. Five kilogrammes of lablab at Shs30,000 that he planted on an acre and two sacks of Napier planting material at Shs10,000 per sack.
Natwijuka has majored in pasture seed production.
“As a pasture producer, I know that different farmers, depending on what they are rearing, need specific types of pasture. So, we produce pasture seeds for beef and dairy cattle, rabbits and goats among others animals,” he says. The improved pastures have a high growth rate are and resistant to drought thus solving the biggest problem of inadequate feeds during dry seasons. The two broad groups of pastures he deals in include grasses and legumes.
Grasses include chloris gayana (lord’s grass), penisetum clandestinum (kikuyu grass), panicum maximum (mukonzi konzi), calliandra, Napier grass (elephant grass), brachiaria mulato (Congo siginal grass or locally known as kifuta).
Natwijuka further notes that the pastures once planted, have a high ability to colonise the places where they are grown and they have high levels of required nutrients that are needed by animals for quick maturity, increased production, good health and quality products.
Other advantages he cites about the improved pastures include; the high regeneration potential (after grazing) and soil fertility improvement by nitrogen fixation.
“Before I sell the seeds, I inquire about the kind of animals the farmer is rearing and the objective of the farm. This gives me a clear picture of what exactly she or he will need,” he reveals, adding, “Different animals need different pastures depending on the objective. Beef and milk cattle are fed differently because they are reared for different purposes. So as I give advice to the farmers, I mainly consider their objective. ”
Natwijuka who has been into pasture seed production for more than a year operates on 10 acres of land in Kabanyoro, along Gayaza Zirobwe road. He has however partnered with other land owners whom he pays 10 per cent of the profit at the end of the harvest season.
“I sell the seed towards and during the planting season and hay during the dry season. From chloris seed and hay alone, I make Shs4.5m per year per acre,” he says.
From brachiaria mulato, he makes about Shs4m. With mulato, Natwijuka mainly sells planting material and hay where he gets 50 bales per harvest. He sells a bale of hay at Shs7,000. About how much seed he produces, Natwijuka reveals that, it all depends on the size and fertility of the land plus the availability of water (rain).
“I harvest 100 kilogrammes of chloris seeds per acre per year,” he divulges. Lablab which is a legume, Natwijuka mainly produces seed and sells a kilogramme between Shs30,000 and Shs40,000. The price of pasture seed normally shoots when the demand is high. He employs 12 permanent employees and pays them a salary of between Shs150,000 and Shs200,000 per month. He, however, contracts more man-power during the planting, weeding and harvest time.
“My clients are mostly farmers, who are informed or knowledgeable and have done research and need the best for their businesses. I have also got agricultural institutions that have started taking the seeds in large qualities,” he says.
It has not been a bed of roses according to Natwijuka, he has faced different huddles during the time he has been in operation.
He points out land as one of the most challenging issues he has come across.
“Given the kind of clients I deal with, I need to at least get more land to be able to satisfy them at all times.”
In scenarios where fast farmers take many seeds, others who come towards the end of the planting season take little or no seed thus pushing them to the following season which cost them a lot,” he reveals.
Pasture farm establishment
Due to the several losses most farmers had made even after buying pasture from Natwijuka, he started helping farmers to establish their farms to avoid losses.
“Many farmers would not follow instructions thus yielding losses. This pushed their interest down,” he notes.
With farm establishment, he prepares the land, plants the pasture then hands it over to the owner when the farm has fully established.
Natwijuka has been able to contribute to his tuition and buy himself a vehicle that he uses when visiting the farm. Although Natwijuka still has a lagging gap of satisfying the local market, he has not lost the plan of exporting pasture seeds.
Natwijuka has been able to move steadily from the time he started. In the last season, he made a net profit of Shs25m but decided to re-invest the money to expand the farm.