In 1995 she abandoned her job at Busitema National College, Tororo where she worked as a records clerk. This marked the beginning a new life as a farmer in her home area in Kabarole district.
Her friends and relatives criticized her while others called a fool for abandoning her permanent job to misery called farming.
Nevertheless, Florence Kayaayo had a different view about farming. She settled on the land she had had bought together with her husband Emmanuel Rusoke Kayaayo in Kibale village, Kisomoro sub-county Kabarole district.
“I wanted to show those that despised me when I left my job that farming was had a hidden golden that all of them did not know,” she says.
Realizing that most people in her village were farmers, Kayaayo started growing Irish potatoes, maize, beans, matooke, cassava and sweet potatoes her four acres for home consumption.
After studying how people lived, she also noticed that people were prone to famine because they did not store food.
“I saw an opportunity to make money during the time when food was scarce. I started storing food for my family and for selling and I have no regrets,” she says.
In 2003 after her husband was transferred from Busitema National Agricultural College (now Busitema University) to NARO Entebbe.
She decided not to follow her husband but to go to the village and make a home for her children. Her mother in-law gave her one basin of garlic seeds and planted it and harvested a full sucker of garlic, that’s when she realized that garlic was a business she wanted to engage in.
Later in the year, NAADS was introduced in Kisomoro sub-county and she was brought on board and given 80kgs of garlic seeds which she planted on a one acre of land.She was surprised to harvest 800 kgs.
“At that time I sold a kilo gram of garlic at sh 5,000 and I got sh 4m, I celebrated and I said oh my God, there is money in farming,” the 50 year old says with a lot of excitement in her voice.
Because of her progress, Kayaayo has been made the leader of all garlic farmers under Kabarole Garlic Growers Marketing Association.
To support other garlic farmers, Kayaayo offered some of her land for the construction of two stores for the harvested garlic from other farmers in the district. The stores were built with the support of NAADS, Kabarole district.
She says that better storage facilities would ensure good quality, better prices and after harvesting, all farmers transport their produce s home where it is kept in the stores until it is sold.
She says that the price of garlic has gone up from sh 5,000 in 2004 to sh 15,000 and last season she sold garlic worth sh 18m.
When the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) introduced apple growing to the people of Kabarole district in 2003, the local farmers believed that apples could only thrive in Kabale district and countries where snow falls.
She began growing apples in 2004, with 20 plants as from Kabale district where she had gone on an exchange visit programme.
She planted the apples in her compound as a trail she harvested 1,000 apples and sold each apple at sh800, less than the price in grocery stores.
Kayayo started with 20 trees of apples as a trail after seeing a future with apples she has scaled to 350 trees. She however targets 500 trees.
Working with East African Seeds
Kayaayo was always not happy selling her maize locally because the local buyers were paying little money. She worked hard and added value to her maize and contacted East African Seeds which came and inspected her and were satisfied with the quality they gave her business.
She says that she takes care of crops right from the gardens by putting turplines in the garden during the harvesting time, carry it in clean suckers to the store in order to keep its nature color and avoid contamination of the seeds.
“When harvesting, I don’t put my maize on the ground I use tarpline and transport them to clean place until I put in the grannies for safe storage. This protects its color to 100 percent, keep the real original test and moisture content,” she says.
With the profits she gets from farming, she supported her husband to build a permanent house.
“I told my husband that let us build a big house and one for the children because they had grown up. He did not believe me but I assured him that I had the money,” the mother of six says.
She has paid school for her children, five of them are now grandaunts, supported her relatives , catered for 20 dependents among them two are now priests and she is still paying fees for the rest.
She has built rental houses at Nyakigumba trading center which fetches her sh 1.1m per month.
She is also started up a hardware shop that gives her a daily income. She also owns a four wheel drive car that she uses to transport her produce. She has also bought an additional piece of land on which she has planted eucalyptus trees, which she will sell to generate more income.
“I have done all this because of hoe. Let me tell you these is gold in digging,” she emphases.
Kayaayo says that farmers should be creative and manage their farmers using cheap but modern ways of farming. She says that she uses soap and milk to spray her apples to prevent diseases in apples known as “white methods” which says is very dangerous and a threat to apple farmers.
She explains that she gets one piece of blue washing soap, sock it overnight, then in morning she mixes it with one liter of milk and add in 20 liters of water and spray her apples.
Kayaayo says that farming needs love, patience and commitment. If you choose to do farming you must be ready to invest in time and totally commit yourself to it. Let it be part of your life if you want to benefit from farming. In fact to me the day I don’t go to my gardens I feel bad, I feel I am missing something that I love so dearly,” she advises.
Kayayo says that if people in Kabarole were hard working and embrace the good soil and weather, Kabarole would be one of the riches districts and a food basket in Uganda.
One of the most challenges is farmers who want quick money yet they are not willing to invest in farming. She says that others at lazy and have a wrong attitude saying farming is labour intensive, while others say that they will get old and dirty when they did.
“When I started mobilizing women to dig, most of them told me that they will get old while others thought that digging is dirty. I was shocked me,” she says.
Kayayo is also a founder of Karungi Women’s Group, Kisomoro United Association and Bunyangabo Farmers Marketing Cooperative Association.
She employs six permanent workers and over get over 15 casual workers during the weeding and harvesting period. She is been able to retain her workers because of the motivations she gives them. She pays them sh 60,000 and sh 3,000 daily for casual on top of giving them bonuses.
She is planning to increase of apple garden from 350 to 500 trees, she also plans to plant coffee.
She says that if looked after well, one apple tree can produce over 600 fruits and a fruit is sh sh 1,000. “I want to move away from season crops to a life time crops. Apple can last for 25 years and coffee as well,” she says.
Her biggest plan is to turn her home into an agro tourism center and training center for farmers where people can come, see and learn.