Piriyo, 28, left school because his father Anthony Ngorobo could not afford to pay his fees. Unlike most young boys in Yurekijoro village in Ayivuni sub county astride the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo border who often got drawn into cross border smuggling, Piriyo decided to join his father in farming.
They began with planting a variety of vegetables such as cabbages, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, carrots and sugarcane on small fragmented gardens.
At that time it looked like an ill-judged choice but when they began taking their produce to the nearby Odromachaku border market, some buyers started following them home to buy on the farm.
Over time, he has grown into an exemplary and admired farmer to youth in Ayivuni Sub County in Arua district.
On Thursday, the father of three presenting soiled hands and feet was all smiles as he explained how well known he has become due to tomato farming.
“I received many groups of youths last year some of them were brought by the district and others by Ayivuni Sub County who came to learn how to grow and make money from tomatoes,” he says.
Piriyo owes part of his success to the Netherlands Development Corporation (SNV) that in 2016 selected him among 30 young people from his village for a vegetable farming training under the Youth Employability through Enterprise and skills development project.
Learning new skills
Having gambled farming since he was 14 years old, Piriyo said the Dutch sponsored programme was a treasure trove for him.
It introduced him to much needed skills of modern and climate smart agriculture particularly of tomato farming.
Apart from learning how to make and apply organic fertilizers, control pests, raise nursery beds among others the Dutch also provided material support such as pesticides, hybrid seeds, water jug and sprayer pump.
Armed with his new acquisition, Piriyo in 2016 planted 1,000 tomato seedlings. A combination of a long dry spell and white butterfly attacks however led to poor yields that he did not make much out of his efforts of that year.
He reported the challenge to the SNV officials and they responded by constructing a rainwater harvesting facility to trap water for irrigation during dry season.
The facility consists of a 4mx6m wide and 7 feet deep pit whose bottom was covered with a concrete slab while the top was covered with a tarpaulin. Wire mesh was used to block debris along the water charnel leading to the pit.
To draw water out of the pit, Piriyo was given a foot pump and five plastic buckets all connected to each other using plastic tubes.
One person pumps the water while another one sprinkles on the crop. He planted 2,400 tomatoes on ridges and mulched them to keep the field moisturised.
When they matured, buyers drove in cars from as far as Duruba in DR Congo and Arua town that Piriyo didn’t have to foot transport bills to go to the market.
Just like his reliance on family labour for managing the nursery bed, ploughing, planting, weeding and harvesting, Piriyo ceded the responsibility of selling the tomatoes to his wife Eunice Inzikuru.
Selling a basinful of tomatoes at sh50,000 at farm gate price, Piriyo’s family earned sh3m in total. But he says that was about sh1.8m less than they would have earned had they taken the produce to the market because at the market price, one can get sh2,000 from one tomato plant meaning Piriyo would have earned sh4.8m from his 2,400 plants.
Nonetheless, that money helped him to lay bricks and buy a cow and look after the family needs as well.
This year, he has decided to expand by renting an a quarter piece of garden at sh90,000. He has so far planted 2,000 tomatoes and is planning to plant three times that number this year at different intervals.
“I want to space them so that when the first set is maturing and ripening, those in the second garden are still growing. That will allow me time to properly manage the fields,” he said.
His aim is to kick-start the construction of a residential house as soon as harvesting of the new tomatoes starts.
He says his firstborn child is still in primary one and that affords him time to concentrate on spending on building before paying school fees becomes a big Issue.
“I want my children to get the education that I missed and I will make sure I support them as necessary,” he said.