Deo Tukwatsibwe posses with one of the bunches of Phia bananas from his garden. He earns at least Shs9 million every three months from local gin extracted from this type of bananas. Photos Zadock Amanyisa.
Reaping big. Deo Tukwatsibwe is a millionaire who found fortune in commercial farming and waragi distilling. He shares his story with Zadock Amanyisa.
Deo Tukwatsibwe’s story is long. After dropping out of school in 1997, he thought of how he could be a successful Ugandan. In the same year, he started working in the transport industry as a taxi driver, plying the Bushenyi-Mbarara highway. Three years later, he joined commercial farming, at the same time operating a small shop at his trading centre. “I stopped in Senior Three but I have no regret because I earn more than many more educated people. I became serious with commercial farming after I acquired land in my village. I started growing bananas on a large scale. I thought making Waragi a (local gin) from my bananas would give me more money,” Tukwatsibwe shares.
But the banana variety popular for making waragi was disappearing very fast, thanks to the attack by the acute banana wilt disease, locally known as Todura. He lost about 20 hectares of his banana garden to the disease that hit the area in 1988.
However, Tukwatsibwe was advised by The National Agricultural Advisory Services Organisation (Naads) frontline extension worker in 2005 to plant a different banana variety known as Phia/Kawanda, which was resistant to the disease. Phia, also known as Kawanda, is a multipurpose variety from National Agricultural Research Institute – Kawanda. It can be roasted, fried, or eaten fresh although it is more difficult to peel and takes a little longer to cook.
The Naads official helped him acquire the banana suckers from Mbarara District. Now, with 30 acres of banana wilt resistant plants from the 10 banana suckers he got, he can distill 70-100 jerrycans of waragi a month. This fetches him about Shs7 to Shs9 million per three months. This is up from 10 jerrycans before the introduction of the Phia variety. Tukwatsibwe is the producer of Kiyanga waragi.
“I am one of the 40 farmers under Kebikyere United Farmers Group, where we are all involved in Phia growing and spirit making because working alone does not help. You need other people’s advice,” Tukwatsibwe says. Out of four bunches of bananas, Tukwatsibwe can get 80 litres of concentrated juice. The juice is mixed with 40 litres of water to make 130 litres. The mixture is fermented with sorghum. It is later distilled, yielding 20 litres of waragi. Each 20-litre jerrycan of the distilled waragi is sold at Shs90,000 in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tukwasibwe’s spirit is certified by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards. “Kiyanga waragi has gained demand in the nearby markets of Kihihi, Rwenshama, and Bukurungu in Kanungu and Rukungiri districts. Some of it is exported to the Democratic Republic of Congo,” he says.
Tukwatsibwe also plants sugar canes, which he harvests after every three months and makes waragi out of them. The sugar canes are squeezed using a machine and the juice is distilled just like the banana juice before producing waragi, which is not any different from the banana product. “I use the sugarcane husks as firewood for distilling waragi so I don’t need to buy firewood. I also use banana residues for manure to keep the soil fertile,” Tukwatsibwe explains. He digs a pit and puts the banana residues there for three to four months to produce organic manure, which is good for banana growing.
As an LC3 chaiman, Tukwatsibwe is a very busy man, constantly engaged in many programmes in his sub-county but he works with his wife, who manages most of the process, especially supervising the day-to-day running of the business. “In the morning, I first monitor my farms and go to office at around 9am. The rest of the farm work and the distilling are managed by my wife until when I come back in the evening,” Tukwatsibwe says.
Distilling Waragi from bananas Procedure. The first step is the preparation of the banana juice. Unpeeled bananas are put in a pit for several days to ripen. The outer skin is then removed, kneaded, juiced, filtered and diluted. Grass can be used to squeeze the banana so that only a clear juice is obtained. The residue will remain in the grass. The juice is mixed with water and later fermented with sorghum, maize or any other cereal crop. One volume of water is added to every three volumes of banana juice. This makes the total soluble solids low enough for the yeast to act. It is distilled locally in metallic containers commonly known as “drums” and at the end of the process, waragi is ready. Cereals are ground and roasted and added to improve the colour and flavour of the final product.
Achievements Tukwatsibwe says he has been able to diligently pay school fees for all his children at primary, secondary and university levels. He has also bought plots of land in the nearby trading centre of Kisiizi, where he has put up houses for rent. He has also been able to construct more houses for rent in Ishaka town in Bushenyi District, which fetch him at least Shs2 million per month. He employs 20-30 people in his farms and projects, which he says is an achievement because he offers them lunch, besides paying them.
“I did not go to school but I have been able to cross borders. I also have a car in which I move around,” he explains. Despite the achievements, Tukwatsibwe says he faces some challenges, including the rudimentary methods he uses to distill the waragi, heavy taxes levied on his product, lack of power (electricity), among others.
The vast majority of the bananas currently grown and consumed were not conventionally bred but are selections made over probably thousands of years from naturally occurring hybrids. Cultivated bananas are very nearly sterile and as a consequence are not propagated from seed but rather through vegetative propagation, primarily suckers as well as more recently micropropagated or tissue cultured bananas. These factors, very old selections, near sterility and vegetative propagation, mean that these bananas have not been genetically improved either for resistance or improved quality and are becoming increasing in affected by serious pests and diseases.
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