John Baptist Okello Okello is growing vegetables including cabbages for commercial purposes
Retired politician, John Baptist Okello Okello, has settled into farming – making way for young politicians to take up political offices.
Okello Okello was Member of Parliament for Dokolo North County and LCV Chairperson for Dokolo district.
However, he called it quits in the last election – retiring into farming at his farm, Farm View, located a few kilometers from Lira town. At his farm, Okello Okello grows mainly short term crops such as tomatoes, cabbages and vegetables among others.
In an interview with Business Focus last week, Okello Okello said it was time he made way for the young people whom he said he mentored to take up political positions.
Okello Okello says farming is not very profitable as many may think but notes that with time, one can make money.
Below are the excerpts of the interview;
Business Focus: What describes you now? Have you retired from elective politics?
Okello Okello: I am on my retirement from active politics.
Business Focus: At what point did you realize that you can actually take on farming?
Okello Okello: My wife has been on it for some time. We also had a fish farm which has gone a little bit down lately but we have actually been doing small scale farming.
Business Focus: You are into tomatoes, cabbages, watermelon, vegetables etc. Why the choice of short term crops?
Okello Okello: We have been in this (short term crops). We haven’t really gone in very long term crops. We have a few oranges but not much. They have not grown as expected
Business Focus: What’s the space from which you are doing this farming?
Okello Okello: We probably have about 15-20 acres but we have not at any one time covered every one of them. Just a portion.
Business Focus: Where is the market for your produce?
Okello Okello: That is the thing why we have not covered all. At the moment, the market has been in Lira.
Business Focus: You seem not convinced with the market…
Okello Okello: We are trying to drill our borehole so that we do some work during the dry season because during the rainy season, literally everybody also grows the same thing and when you come to the market, the prices drop down tremendously. Now, the prices are very high and yet growing it during dry season like this needs a lot of watering and we believe that if we sort out the issue of irrigation, then farming will become much better but at the moment, really the drawback is that – drought. Last season we had a lot of cabbages and tomatoes but Lira was flooded with tomatoes. So, the returns become poor.
Business Focus: Apart from drought, what other challenges are you facing?
Okello Okello: The other challenge is the high cost of labour because these things are very labour-intensive and we need to find a way of cutting down on labour cost to make it more profitable.
Secondly, we have been thinking that we need to go into processing so that we don’t just see a lot of wastage and then sell it even at a giveaway price. Perhaps if we did some processing of these products, we would be going in the right direction, and also absorb what other farmers are producing. That’s our thoughts at the moment.
Business Focus: Tell us about what it takes to invest in farming?
Okello Okello: Investment in farming is heavy. As I said, the return on investment is unfortunately a bit slow but I believe that over a period, see if you are talking of a proper investment, certainly that is not possible in one or two days but if you go and slowly make it a career that you will be in it, I think it has great possibility and by the way, I believe that farming is even going to be the thing of the future. Population is increasing and so on, land is not increasing and so the technology in terms of increasing farming is really very critical. I think it will be the greater part of the business investment in future. Most people will come when they see that a few others are successful but I believe that yes, you need to dramatically change our agricultural investment to support those innovations in terms of processing what we have. That’s where the investment should be and it will pay for the future.
Business Focus: Politics or farming. Do you regret/appreciate any of these?
Okello Okello: Politics is a service. I was able to create a better environment and service to the people that I serve and I think it is important. Actually, politics is the engine that gets things done, creates a better environment, and creates opportunities-if handled properly. I think that I have done what I could do but you can never finish all that you want to do. However, farming needs commitment. You need to give it dedication. It doesn’t quite pay off as everybody keeps saying that let everybody go to farming and all these. You need to build stamina. You need to believe that eventually it will be much more profitable but if we could go and start processing some of these products, I think we would be going the right way. We cannot keep on remaining like other smaller farmers. We need to go a little bit beyond and that’s what I am looking forward to. The cost and the finance can be challenging but I do hope that if the funding of farming was done at a favorable cost, I think it would enhance the work of the farmers.
Business Focus: What do you tell politicians of your age who are still in active politics?
Okello Okello: If their wish is to serve, let them continue but I think at a certain stage, it is important that you let others serve.
Like me now I think I have about 3 or 4 people who are LCVs who have gone through my hands and that’s what we need to do. You need to pass on the baton. When are these young people going to do the work if I keep on sitting forever and ever? I think after a while, it is important that we learn to give the baton so that the process continues otherwise you stay forever and when you leave, you leave with everything. That’s not good.
Business Focus: What other services do you offer at Farm View?
Okello Okello: The hotel (Farm View Hotel) has not been doing well these past two years. I have been thinking if I could do training in a different manner so that others might come and we share experience. I have not yet processed it but it keeps on coming to my mind and also turn our hotel into a training institution for hotel management.