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At 40, Dr Emma Naluyima’s triumphs are enviable

Dr Emma Naluyima with a tray of eggs from her farm

Dr Emma Naluyima with a tray of eggs from her farm

She has travelled all over the world talking about what she does best: farming. She talks farming numbers in a way that would make the most cynical person take up the vocation.

Nnalongo Dr Emma Naluyima is not new to many farmers in Uganda and abroad. Carolyne Nakazibwe spent a day with her last week at her farm/school/home in Bwerenga, Kawuku, Wakiso district.

I expected a much older, much taller woman to meet me, but Dr Naluyima, 40, is small in stature, outspoken with a character that makes you want to be her friend.

“We think old people are the ones who should have accomplishments. But when you are young, you are energetic then,” Naluyima said as we settled under a mango tree in her vast manicured compound overlooked by her two-storey home that also houses administrative offices.

This veterinary doctor, farmer, wife and mother-of-four has a schedule that allows no mistakes. In fact, when I arrived at the farm 20 minutes late after getting hopelessly lost thanks to a blabbering GoogleMaps, a scheduled 11 o’clock, one-hour interview turned into six hours with Naluyima, because I had to re-fit into her timetable.

That involved cooking lunch and feeding her family (she has no house help), talking to farmers that come to learn, dealing with clients buying farm produce, etc.

“Between 4 am and 7 am, I am a farmer. Between 7 am and 11 am, I am a mother and a wife; that is why I put all my appointments after 11 am when my family is set. Between 11 am and 6 pm, I am a vet, educator, consultant…between 6 pm and 4 am I am a mother and wife,” she explained.

“I am very particular with time. If you don’t come at the appointed time, I will chase you away. I am really strict with time.”

For someone who ended up in veterinary medicine quite by mistake, Naluyima has done so well.

“Any child good at math and science in the Ugandan setting, you have to become a human doctor. I was doing PCB, but I missed government sponsorship [for human medicine] by one point and decided to still apply for private sponsorship.”

But between Naluyima’s mother (who had taken the application forms on her behalf) and an uncle the mother met on the way to the university, it was decided their daughter would fare better as a veterinary doctor. And without consulting Naluyima, the application that went in for consideration was for veterinary medicine.

And that is how this alumna of Stella Maris primary school, Nsuube, Maryhill High School and Makerere University ended up at the college of veterinary medicine animal resources and biosecurity. It turned out to be the perfect blessing; with her classroom knowledge and the upbringing she had in Entebbe where she was born and bred, she has become one of the most respected small-scale farmers.

Snail farming at Naluyima's farm

Most of the farming Naluyima does is on a one-acre farm in her backyard, and she has no plans of expanding. It is on this piece of land that she and her husband Ssalongo Washington Mugerwa rear 30 pigs (“in piggery we only count the sows”), seven jersey cows, domestic fowls, four smart fish ponds (each holding 500 catfish or tilapia), and grow bananas, assorted vegetables…all using fascinating methods that cut costs but also improve their yield.

For example, the chickens on the farm use feeds fortified with live maggots bred on site from compost, as well as black soldier fly larvae and red worms. Watching her husband turn the black soil to expose the wriggling red worms they feed to the chicken and fish is not for the fainthearted.

And in the chicken coop, the chicks happily pick out the maggots and the couple boasts of having the best chicken meat and yellow-yolk eggs.

Did you know red worms pee? Well, at the farm, the couple collects urine from the red worms’ trough, which in turn is said to be an excellent organic pesticide.

When I continued expressing puzzlement on how Naluyima turns a profit from such a ‘small plot’, she explained with figures, pointing to a 12ft plot planted with nakati (scientific name, Solanum aethiopicum), from which she earns at least Shs 20,000 per day, while also feeding her family.

She has similar small patches for onion, cucumber, spinach, tomato, beetroot, cabbage and more, some fetching up to Shs 200,000 in the market several times over, before she has to replant the patch. Her next plan is to start making cheese and butter from her seven jersey cows, a breed she prefers specifically because of its high butter-fat content.

While Friesians have a higher milk yield, she said, their butter-fat content is low. Even with pigs, she specifically rears the cumbria known for lean meat and low fat.

“I will never change from one acre, because it works perfectly for me and gives me the money I need. Even singlehandedly, I can run my farm.”

A dream is born

Born to flight captain Chris Kikwabanga and retired banker Margaret Nanziri in Entebbe, Naluyima’s life still rotates around Entebbe, and has very little use for Kampala. It is an upbringing in an Entebbe and Bwebajja before the current urban explosion, which allowed her to experiment with subsistence farming and interact with the environment whenever she visited her grandparents’ home near present-day J&M hotel.

Also, Capt. Kikwabanga being constantly on a plane to faraway destinations, instilled in his four children an early culture of reading by returning with books whenever he travelled.

“I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Robert Kiyosaki) at a very early age. He would buy many books like, Think And Grow Rich (Napoleon Hill)…and when my stepmother died when I was 15 and my father still needed to travel for work, he would leave us $100 to fend for ourselves while he was away,” Naluyima said of the processes that helped groom the woman she has become.

Their father encouraged them not to borrow from shops and neighbours, but instead be contented with what was available to them when he was away. All these are principles Naluyima still uses to-date. It also helps that she had an uncle who worked at Coopers (presently, MTK), whom she followed around and worked with a lot in the field and was impressed with how much he earned from the vet drugs.

Dr Emma Naluyima checking on her cows

She had also been spending a lot of her free time at the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Databank [Nagric&DB] in Entebbe, watching what they did, including artificial insemination. As a third-year student, the then director even offered her a short course at Nagric, earning herself a certificate.

“In my fourth year, the director called and said, ‘Emma, you come; we are going to the president’s farm in Rwakitura’,” she recalled.

Nagric had been contracted (in early 2000s) to improve the president’s animals and since that was before her marriage and children, Naluyima had time. She ended up staying in Rwakitura alone as her boss returned to Entebbe and only picked her up a month later.

“I did it perfectly. I am proud to say I was there when all the president’s animals were inseminated and they conceived.”

But perhaps her biggest influence came during industrial training when she took a placement managing one Mr Batuna’s farm in Kyamuhunga, Bushenyi.

“He had matoke, cows, sheep, coffee... I was in charge of the farm, but we never had to buy anything, except meat and sugar. He was the one who inspired me the most,” she said.

“He has 10 children and by the time I was there, his last born was in UCU Mukono. He educated all his children in private schools. He told me he had worked for government for two years before leaving to farm his own land.”

So, in 2004 when Naluyima graduated and Nagric offered her a fulltime job as a vet complete with a government house, “I set myself a target that I would work there for not more than two years, in order to not become too comfortable in the civil service”.

She joined Nagric on August 6, 2004 and on August 3, 2006, she left according to her personal targets. She asked her father to allow her to use an idle family plot in Bwerenga, a kilometre from where she currently lives, and “everyone was in shock. My mother even prayed for me”.

That is where Naluyima set up a piggery project, borrowing Shs 2m to build the pigsty with help from her grandfather – a civil engineer – and a cousin who was studying at Kisubi Technical College. She also bought four sows and a male, using her knowledge of genetics to select the best breeds. In 2008, she went back to Makerere for her master’s degree.

“The pigs paid for my tuition and I also opened up a vet clinic in Entebbe. God has been so good to me!”

Dr Emma Naluyima at the farm

When in 2010 she married Ssalongo Mugerwa, a teacher by training, they bought 6.5 acres in their current location and she loaded her pigs and moved to her marital home.

“I tell people that when I came into this marriage, I came with 10 pigs,” she said, laughing. “We had our wedding right here. I convinced my husband that pigs are profitable. I showed him the math and he bought the idea.”

When the children started arriving, her first-born twin girls – now nine – were premature and she had to stop working. That is when she noticed they were spending a lot of money on food. A bunch of matoke cost Shs 20,000. They used tomatoes worth Shs 8,000 a week…

“I started a potatoes and matoke garden in the backyard as a way to stop spending on food. I don’t know the last time we bought food.”

Soon, she started growing her own tomatoes as well.

“The expansion from piggery grew from my need to put food on the table,” she said.

From that need, she has seen her farm grow in quality, even as the size remained standard.

The school

Naluyima won the ‘Mulimi Asinga’ competition in 2014, which she says, changed their lives forever. That is when the farm tours started and her frequent trips abroad to talk and educate also intensified. A TED-Johannesburg talk she gave in 2018 stands out online. Tourists pay Shs 100,000 per head to tour and learn at her farm.

In 2016, the couple, again out of need to give their children a wholesome education, decided to start MST Junior School, whose model of education is unique.

“I went on my knees and said, ‘God, please give me just 20 pupils to start’. God heard my prayer and gave us 78 pupils that first term!”

Naluyima said. The school covers classes from kindergarten to P.7. By the end of 2016, they had 156 pupils and 20 teachers. Using her one acre, the farm feeds the children and staff.

“Had it not been for the farm, we would have closed long time ago!”

Standing for Math, Science and Technology (“because that is what pushes a nation”), the school teaches the normal UNEB curriculum, “and wisdom”.

The MST Junior School computer lab

“We teach the three things every African should know; time management, value of money and the culture of saving. We do all that through farming.”

All the children are given a banana plant or an animal.

“The matoke we have currently belong to the P.7 pupils. They planted them in P.3. When we harvest a pupil’s matoke, we weigh it. A kilo costs between Shs 1,000 and 1,200. All that is mathematics. If we get 30 kilos out of the bunch, the child calculates how much money that is. Their parent is the first client. The parent pays and that money is kept by the class teacher. On Monday, the children go to bank that money on their personal accounts,” Naluyima said.

“Our prerequisite here is that Shs 20,000 of the school fees [Shs 1.2m, except for P.7] is for opening up a bank account for one’s child.”

When the children sell artwork, snacks they make in the kitchen, etc, that money is banked on the pupils’ accounts.

“At the end of the term, we give you a class report and a financial report.”

Currently with 300 pupils, Naluyima is proud of the products the school releases and the unique knowledge the school imparts and how the children apply all of it in their families. When I toured the tastefully furnished day and boarding school, the walkways were lined with vegetable patches where other schools have flowers.

MST Junior School science laboratory

A snail farm stood proudly at the entrance, where big snails are kept and when ready, their goo is harvested and sold to cosmetic industries, according to ICT teacher Peter Kyakuwadde, who took me around. There is a science lab for the pupils to test soils, experiment with fertilizer, transplant and other projects. The knowledge from the lab is taken to the garden, then to the kitchen and they use a computer lab to do research.

They have so far had three candidate years and their former pupils are shining in secondary schools. Some have started farms in their homes, introduced the culture of saving to their classmates, taught their parents good farming practices, and one wrote a project proposal for a piggery project for his school, and even led his teachers back to Bwerenga to learn from Dr Naluyima and buy her piglets.

The children are also very involved in sports.

“One of them, in King’s College Budo, does not go beyond the third position. I wouldn’t say we do anything special; it is the grace of God.”

Naluyima and her husband (who conducts the farm tours) had been set on keeping the school strictly at elementary level, but are currently toying with the idea of expanding, born from the realisation that their pupils have a hard time adjusting to other schools’ models.

“I feel such pride that I changed someone’s life. We call this the school of sons and daughters of African farmers.”

At 5 pm, I left Bwerenga feeling richer for having talked to and observed this woman who juggles her life effortlessly. She interrupted the interview several times to make a sale, make a meal, take care of her highly independent children, serve Ssalongo his lunch and later to ask him if he had enjoyed his meal, to which he answered with a thumbs-up as he headed back to the farm.


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