By Hope Mafaranga
When we left the camp in 2006, we had nothing to turn to as most of our houses, crops and animals were destroyed by the 20 year old of the war of the Lord Resistance Army ( LRA) and one had to think out of the box to ensure his family survives.
The memories of the LRA seems fresh in the mind of Patrick Alengo, 49 , a resident of Onil Village, in Aloi sub-county, Alebtong district.
He remembers the suffering as if it just happened yesterday. Alengo a father of seven and a catechist at St Nichols, Awiny said, when they returned from the camps, they had nothing to feed their children on and had no shelter at all.
“We use to live on aid from non-government organisations and life was a nightmare. I had to do something extra ordinary to sustain my family,” he said.
He said one day, he attended a meeting organised by Care international which was intended to sensitising war returnees about food security and it opened his eyes.
He said the meeting restored hope in him and started thinking about farming as he used to do before the war broke out.
His family like any other affected by war, was living in Aloi internal displaced persons camps. However his family returned when peace prevailed in 2006.
Upon coming back from the meeting, Alengo sat his wife Florence Adong down and decided to utilise their land to grow food for the family and also grow for sell to other war returnees.
“I started growing beans, maize and ground nuts for home consumption and I would sell the surplus to other people for little money,” he said.
As the region stabilised, Alengo was among the few farmers, that were growing food and he was invited to the Aloi sub-county headquarters for a farmer’s meeting.
He said during the meeting, they were told to focus on growing crops that will generate income and uplift the standards of their living.
How he started
He said the meeting discussed a number of crops that could help farmers make money and one that caught his eye was cassava growing.
In 2007, again he sat his wife down and made a decision to sell the seven cows they got brought using the money from the maize, g.nuts and beans to open the first of land for cassava growing.
Alengo who inherited 500 acres of land from his father, started with 12 acres in 2007 when peace was returning to the region and he has gradually upscale to 250 acres.
He acquired chips cutting machines which he used to cut cassava in small pieces which helps to dry the cassava and now sells to Mbale, Lira and Kenya.
He said the machine has the capacity of crushing over 5000 kilogrammes a day and because they are in small pieces it dries faster and reduces on the risk of rotting especially during rain session.
He also said the machine reduces the level of contamination since few hands touch the cassava.
The machine is sold at sh 8.5m in agro input shops and uses only three liters of fuel every day.
After leaning the skills, Alengo saw the need of sharing with other members of the community and he started Aneni Can Mega cluster group of 99 members . The group has 56 women and 43 men. He said one of the reasons of why they started a group, they wanted to get market for their cassava, fight food insecurity and increase on household income.
Alengo’s support is among the over 8,000 members trained by International Fertisers Development Center (IFDC) and the organisation also linked them to market.
He said they now sell cassava cuttings to Operation wealth creation and NAADs and sell the tubers to the organisation that makes ethanol.
He plans to buys a tractor at sh130m to easy his farming activities and currently he has sh 525m on his account which he wants to buy a bus.
“I want to venture into transport business in order to expand on his business empire,” he said.
He also wants to educate all his seven children and nine orphans he picked during the war he is taking care of up to University.
“When I picked those kids , I chose to be their father and I wanted to give them a permanent home . I will take care of them until the end,” he said.
The last born out 10 and the son of Fenekansi Eyit and Norah Abiri, Alengo, was inspired by the suffering of war and wanted to keep his father’s legacy.
“Being the only boy in a family of 10, I knew that all my sisters would get married and I needed to keep the family going as a man,” he said.
He advised the youth to come back after school and engage in farming. He says this is the only sure way of creating jobs and fighting unemployment.
He urged the youth to stop giving excuses and wasting time in gambling and betting but come back start with the smallest land they have to engage in commercial farming.
“There is money in farming because people will never stop eating , there is ready market for food crop and youth should come back to dig,” he said.
He also advices farmers to stop subsistence farming but put their energies in commercial farming, to get money.
Alengo said that farmers also need to exercise some patience so that they can get the best yield out of their gardens.
According to Alengo, in one acre of cassava, a farmer needs to invest in sh 120,000 for ploughing, buy five bags of cassava cutting at sh 50,000, sh 50,000 for weeding and sh 80,000 for planting, which comes to sh 300,000.
He said one acre of land is capable of giving a farmer sh 6m from the cutting and sh 5m from tubers.
He employs 10 permanent staff at his farm who he pays between sh 80,000 to 150,000 and gives them other incentives like food, cassava cutting and recommends them for trainings in cassava growing.
When the weed is too much, he also hires prisoners about 40 every day and at cost of sh 4,000 each.
His biggest challenges are weather related which he has nothing to do about them.
“ Aleptong sometimes floods and when it’s a dry session, it dries so much that we lose our crops,” he said.
Stabilising and picking the pieces from the camp is one of the most significant achievement Alengo mentions.
Being able to get market outside Uganda, educating his children, expanding his farming and becoming popular are some of the significant gains he has attained
Some of us did not want to comeback from the camps because we were used to being given free food but Alengo convinced us and now we are making a living and sustaining our families through farming.
Yubantino Odyamo: every time there is a meeting related to agriculture at the district, Alengo comes to the farmers and ask their views so that he can tell them to the authorities and brings back feedback.
Sam Okol: he has wanted to go to urban center to search for a job but Alengo showed him the way of making money from farming and he abandoned the idea of going to town and has no regrets.