Profile: Langoya Council Dickson And 21st Century Farming In Uganda
Langoya, right, and a worker admiring one of the trees in his wood at Opok plantation in Gulu district, Uganda
Langoya Council Dickson says his type of farming holds the key to Uganda's agriculture future.
He has a BSc. Forestry Degree from Makerere University Kampala and an MSc. Rural Environment Management from University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
His wife, Ms. Jane Bitek Langoya is daughter to the late renowned scholar and author, Okotp’Bitek, whose most famous book is "Song Of Lawino." She is a lawyer who spent most of her career working as Corporate Secretary in various corporations before resigning recently to concentrate on private business. She is the author of "Songs of Farewell", a tribute to her father.
The couple has two sons, Moses Laboke, 22, and Anderiya Ono, 21. While Moses is waiting for his graduation in IT this year, Anderiya is earning a law Degree.
Perhaps Langoya's business acumen and love of forests and trees from his father, the late Danieri Kalokwera Langoya, a former forester who was involved in planting Abera Central Forest Reserve, a businessman, a farmer, cattle rancher and local politician.
Mr. Langoya worked briefly in the Public Service in the Forestry Department from 1988 to 2004 before opportunity presented itself for him to an early retirements with full benefits (gratuity and pension), when the department of Forestry was phased out. He joined National Forestry Authority (NFA) as Coordinator and Partner from 2004 to 2007 and later as Consultant with FAO, UNDP, CARE-Uganda, and other organizations.
It was while he was working at Nyambyeya Forestry College in Masindi District from 1995 and 1997 that he first got the idea of value addition. At that time is monthly salary was about 10,000 shillings. The college was earning 20 million shillings monthly from harvesting its 160 acres of planted matured trees to timber traders.
“They were harvesting the timber on a sustainable way by limiting the number of lorry [truck] loads of harvested timber to only four Lorries per month, each loading timber worth five million shillings,” he recalls, during a recent visit with him.
The second source of inspiration occurred in 2005. He was on a field visit to Masindi District as a NFA employee when he encountered a 19 year old mother of a 6-month old baby, planting tree seedlings early one morning from Masindi District.
“When I asked her why she was planting the tree seedlings, she said 'you see that child who is lying under that tree shade. By the time she will join university, her tuition fees and all her requirements will have been taken care of.'"
That got him thinking.
The third inspiration was from a 80 year-old man in Mbale District whom he found already receiving his pension from a 10 acre plantation of Eucalyptus poles. The old man had simple instructions for traders who went there.
“He would just say, 'go and cut the poles, load them onto your lorry and bring it here for my grandson to count the numbers, then you pay me the money.' His pension was being paid there and then,” Langoya recalls.
So Mr. Langoya and his wife established the business, Opok Wood Investment, from 2006 to 2011 as one of several investments with others. It occupies 321 acres of land with the primary economic objective and environmental service including climate change mitigation as a bonus. In total there are 150,000 trees: Pines,Teak and Eucalyptus clones.
“By 2024 when this tree matures, each tree would be valued at 80,000 shillings each," he explains.
A quick mathematical calculation reveals that the family will reap 12 billion shillings, about $4.8 million; they spent 45 million shillings on seedlings alone. Langoya says their total capital injected into the plantation business to date is about 200 million shillings, about $79,600. It has already attracted grants from donors, unlike other business enterprises which survives on loans from commercial banks which charge exorbitant interests.
This is not the couple's only project in forestry business. They have also established a nursery bed for raising and distributing tree seedlings of various types at Pece Lukung Parish, Laroo Division in Gulu Municipality. As a power point presentation he offers explains: “Planted forest/tree is resource that appreciates in value compared with most investments that depreciate in values." It also says it's "the best pension scheme ever..."
Before NFA leased the land out for the business it was empty and one could see up to three miles without trees. It is adjacent to Te-Tugu, one of those camps were the government confined civilians during the war between the army and the LRA. The surrounding areas had lost trees as the people forcefully displaced from their homes cut them down for firewood.
When the investors started reforestation, they employed labor from the camp occupants, who in turn learned not only the skills to plant trees but also how it could become a business.
Today, Koro sub-County where the business is located has the biggest number of planted forests in the region.
Visitors to Opok plantation get a unique experience: cool temperature, high humidity, and wind blowing gently; unlike in most areas of the region.
“Micro climate is changing for the good of the community and environment," Langoya explains. "This is possible because of what we call in science carbon cycle and water cycle; since a tree removes carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in its body and its roots absorbs water from deep underneath and release it into the atmosphere to cool temperature. This is climate change mitigation. In fact government should pay us for cleaning the atmosphere like they do it in Costa Rica.”
Langoya is clearly a big fan of reforestation and tree planting as part of the agriculture model and points to the transformative economic benefits.
He says in order to get out of this vicious cycle of poverty, food insecurity, poor harvest due to poor and unpredictable weather patterns, Ugandans must change their mindset on how we practice agriculture. He says Ugandans must avoid dependence on growing annual crops --food crops-- as a means of earning money; he says we must commercialize agriculture and mix it with reforestation by planting trees and fruits.
“The cost of living for a household in the village in a year is about ten million shillings," which is about $3,980, he explains.
"Even if you plant 10 acres of maize you will not meet that expenditure. But if you mix it with planting 50 trees of jack fruits in a 0.8 acres piece of land [you] realize that expenditure easily. Each Jack fruit tree can produce up to 60 fruits per year. Each sells at 3, 000 shillings in open market or 180, 000 for the 60 fruits. That means this farmer will earn nine million shillings from Jack fruits alone. He can supplement that by growing food crops in the rest of his farmland without necessarily wasting that produce to money. We must change our mind set if we want to put money into our pockets.”
Langoya says he will spread his message of transformation by focusing on a few dedicated individuals who have grasped the lesson well instead of the many who are not committed to his dream.
He will also work with local leaders like the retired Anglican Bishop of Northern Uganda, Nelson Onono-Onweng and the Democratic Party (DP) President, Norbert Mao, both of whom have visited his large farm and are supportive.
“They have realized that the classroom already exists to train the community to the benefits of mixing agriculture and planting trees and they have started to replicate the projects themselves, although on small scale, just like there are other farmers who are doing similar business across the region,” he says.
Langoya is in close touch, using digital gadgets, with his family who lives in Kampala.
He says he instills in his employees the importance of always delivering and meeting goals. He also encourages them to work independently, empowering them into their business.
The family plays golf when together; Jane also likes Rotary Club Fellowship and Anderiya, the son, plays Rugby while in Gulu.