Business unusual: a place to do your farming without owning a farm

“Do you want to do some micro-livestock farming less than 30kms out of Kampala, but you do not have land? Don’t worry, now you can”. That was precisely how a post on Nathan Phiri Were’s Facebook page opened—a fairly conventional advertisement for a completely unconventional business idea: a boarding farm. Originally planned to open its doors on August 1, the man behind the venture, Nathan Phiri Were told Matooke Republic the date had been changed to September 1 to ensure everything is in place. Call it mobile farming—for the corporates with limited time.

“It’s a challenge that you see around us,” Mr. Were explained the inspiration behind his idea. “I am in an investment club and a lot of my colleagues have lots of challenges with long distance farming. You have your village which is 100-200 kilometres away.

“You have your 10-15 goats, and you go there once in a quarter. By the time you go back they tell you the goats were 15 [but] now they are 13; two died. You go back and three have died. By the end of the year, you are lucky to have five,” he said.

“A lot of these things have discouraged people getting involved in agriculture—because crop farming is very risky, because of the dependence on nature. Many people are running away from that to livestock because it is a bit safer. But the challenge is, if you do not have land where you can go to monitor on a frequent basis then it becomes extremely difficult,” he added.

Mr. Were, who told us he has about 15 acres in Busiika (located about 20kms from Kampala) figured he could start something where people just rent space and bring their animals, while never having to worry about the distance or time required to get to the farm. And just like that, the boarding farm was born. It wasn’t only about distance and space, though.

He explained another common frustration for people that attempt to get into farming: “The people they entrust these animals with are basically people that you trust from the beginning but they let you down.

“These are relatives and if you go and [you’re told] a goat died, that is it. You won’t ask for the evidence [but] you will come back with your frustrations.”

Right there is the other challenge the farm aims to address. It will provide the ‘mobile farmers’ an option to use the farm staff to look after their animals, or, to bring their own livestock managers for whom the  farm will provide all necessary amenities at a fee. By the time of our interview, 16 people had signed up.

Open for goats and pigs
The plan is to start with goats and pigs, then consider other animals as time goes by. The farm intends to admit only local breeds of goats, and that is with very pragmatic considerations; not only are they easier to feed, they are also much less prone to disease.

“Goats are easier to manage, to begin with, because all you need to do is take them out at 9am after the dew is out and then bring them back before 6pm, so even if you had two people they should be able to do that work,” Mr. Were explained.

“We are looking to have about 3-4 people [managing] at the start. Two people are going to be providing security for the area; we are putting 15 dogs as well, and then we’ll have two people who will be doing the caretaking- looking out for the goats, making sure the water is available… But the number of people will be driven by the number of animals we have. As the animals continue to increase, we will keep on adding to the number of people we employ.”

Cost, distinguishing animals
According to Mr. Were, each animal will be charged Shs5,000 per month to stay at the facility, and this fee will apply to those with less than 10 animals. For more than 10 goats, for example, a mobile farmer will be charged Shs3,000. The fees will cater for the shelter, feeding and first-level treatment by the vet. “If your animal gets sick and it is complicated, we will call you to come and the vet will advise on what is needed,” he said. To tell one person’s animals apart from the others, the farm will use tags. For the pigs there will be two options; a fee for only the shelter (providing your own feeds), or a higher charge which covers boarding and feeding.

There also won’t be a minimum or maximum number of animals one can bring, at least at the start, and the logic here is that some animals will get sold, creating space for new stock or young ones. And some good news for those intending to use the facility: Mr. Were said the farm will be working with Quality Cuts as a market for the pigs, while also facilitating linkages with various pork joints in the city. It will ultimately be the livestock owner’s choice, however, to decide who they sell to. For the goats, there is a ready market waiting to be exploited at Kitetikka (Ku mbuzi), according to Mr. Were. Alternatively, as a livestock owner with animals on the farm, you could also simply opt to take family and friends out to the farm for a little celebration, and slaughter your animal(s)—right there!