From classroom to garden

John Baptist Buyonje, 69, has been an English and history teacher since leaving Makerere University Kampala in 1976. He has served at Gombe Secondary School, St Henry’s College, Kitovu, Bigada Secondary School and Matale Church of Uganda Secondary School.

“When I clocked 60 years, I retired like all other people in government service normally do. But as far as I’m concerned I still have the energy to teach and it’s the reason I teach English and general paper at Matale Church of Uganda Secondary School and at St Andrew’s Secondary School Matale under a private arrangement,” he told Seeds of gold last week in his well-maintained coffee garden, located in Matale-Kinaawa, in Kalisizo Town, Kyotera District.

The garden is about two miles from his house and it’s just a place where he always goes for physical exertion and to be alone with nature, as he says.

The resident of Kito Village, near the town of Kalisizo, owns some four acres of land where he and his wife, Sarah, practice farming as an alternative source of income to his teaching job.

They grow coffee as a cash crop and bananas, beans, corn, cassava and sweet potatoes for food. They also keep some goats. “The coffee garden where we are now is a different and personal project where I actually come to get comfort,” says the 69-year-old.

“I like meditation and I also enjoy physical work. This coffee garden gives me the freedom to be alone and think. Sometimes when I need to mark books, I bring them here and mark them without any disturbance from anyone,” he says.

Used his tip as capital

When he officially retired about nine years ago, he got a nice tip. “I had to invest the money very carefully. I had attended a farming seminar at Kilumba Sub-county headquarters where we listened to a prominent coffee farmer from Lwengo district, Musisi Ssebatta. He impressed me and I made it a point to visit his farm. It was after my visit to Mr. Ssebatta that I decided to invest part of my tip in coffee cultivation. So I decided to buy this piece of land and start planting coffee,” he says.

It measures about two hectares and it is all securely fenced with barbed wire and some shrubs. It has a gate that is always locked whether on the farm or outside. “I have to ensure maximum security because there was a time when thieves would come in and steal some items, including tools, from my shop where I’ve put much stronger padlocks since then,” he explained.

He revealed that he earned over Shs2m per burlap sack from the last coffee crop.

The garden is fully landscaped with grass to keep the soil moist. He applies both organic manure and inorganic manure. A few small piles of chicken droppings could be seen at the base of each coffee tree.

There were some red coffee cherries yet to be harvested, and some coffee trees still bowed due to the heavy weight they carried before the final harvest. He has dug ditches that channel run-off rainwater from the nearby footpaths into the garden.

There are some mituba trees growing in the yard that he says are important for providing shade to the coffee trees. Here and there some young trees were planted about a year ago. “The trend now is to minimize the distance between the coffee trees and increase the fertilization for maximum production,” he explains. “That’s why I planted more coffee trees among the older trees.”

There is a water tap in the garden and if a simple irrigation is needed it will do it. One of his routine tasks is to walk around the garden to inspect and observe the crop’s performance. “We must remember the old English saying that the best manure is the farmer’s sole,” he told Seeds of Gold to justify his frequent trips to the garden.

“I don’t drink alcohol and that’s why I don’t go to bars. On Sundays I spend almost half the day in church, but in the afternoons, unless there are visitors at home, I can come and read a book hiding here in my garden. The rest of the days I’m either teaching in class or working here. I believe that at my age it is also good for my health to do physical work”, says Buyonje.

He recently started beekeeping after befriending Alexander Tukwatanize, who told him about the numerous economic benefits of producing honey.

“He lives nearby but is originally from Ntungamo and comes from a family of beekeepers and livestock farmers. He helped me a lot to get beehives and hang them under the mutuba trees. He knows so many tricks to attract bees to the hives”, says Buyonje.

He pointed to one of the recently purchased hives that had no bees before revealing that Tukwatanize had assured him that the bees would settle there in the next few days if it rains. He is very confident in beekeeping because, as he said, honey is normally harvested twice a year.

“I recently harvested about five kilos of honey from just one hive and made good money,” he reveals. “I therefore expect a lot more money if I get more beehives.” He also said that the bees play a very important role in coffee production as they facilitate pollination.

Buyonje takes pride in physical work and he has another reason to grow coffee.

“My father was a teacher and headmaster in a number of schools for many years,” he said. “However, he also grew coffee and was widely recognized throughout the neighborhood as a fairly wealthy man since he took all of us, his children, to expensive schools.” Buyonje attended Savio School Kisubi and St Henry’s College Kitovu and many of his siblings went to fairly good schools and ended up as teachers and nurses.

Most of his children have completed their education and he attributes his success to supplementing his teacher’s income with coffee cultivation.

Recently John Baptist Buyonje started beekeeping after befriending Alexander Tukwatanize, who told him about the numerous economic benefits of producing honey. “He lives nearby but is originally from Ntungamo and comes from a family of beekeepers and livestock farmers. He helped me a lot to get beehives and hang them under the mutuba trees. He knows so many tricks to attract bees to the hives.”

There is a water tap in the garden and if a simple irrigation is needed it will do it. One of his routine tasks is to walk around the garden to inspect and observe the crop’s performance.

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