When Hajj Jabir Suleiman, 71, began planting trees in 1982 his peers and neighbours laughed at him.

He had just returned from exile in Sudan and people wondered if he would live to enjoy any benefits from trees.

As recent as 2010 Mr Suleiman rejected hybrid boar goats in favour of pine seedlings prompting more mockery from the neighbouring community.

But Mr Suleiman persisted making sure that most of his 259 hectares of farm land was turned into man-made forest of commercially valuable trees and edible fruit trees while other portions were left for short term crops.

Today some of those who despised him are coming to beg him to slaughter a ram for them to eat claiming that way they would bless his trees for harvesting.

He continues to pay deaf ear to such people as constant rumbling of electric saws reverberate throughout Kandiyo village in Monodu parish, Kuluba Sub County in Koboko district where his plantation is located.

Tough start

Starting out farming was a tough venture for Mr Suleiman who never went to school. He applied nursery bed management knowledge that he acquired while in exile in Sudan as a result of the nasty war that ousted former president of Uganda, late Idi Amin Dada.

Before that war, Mr Suleiman was one of the leading businessmen in Koboko, constructing a house that even the invading Tanzanian Peoples Defence Forces soldiers mistook to be the home of former vice president late Gen. Mustafa Adrisi and blew it up with explosives.

Hajj Jabir SuleimanHajj Jabir Suleiman at his Gama-Lenya tree plantation. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

He accommodated himself in what was the boy’s quarter for the dismantled house and sold his three cows to buy seeds of pine, eucalyptus, gravellier, Teak and Gama-Lenya trees from other tree farmers among them, ambassador James Baba, the Koboko constituency member of parliament and former internal affairs state minister.

He used the seeds to raise seedlings from his own nursery bed, planted some and sold others.

Today, Mr Suleiman who never received formal education has a farm that has become an important centre of free education for botany students, researchers and farmers.

Amazed visiting farmers from Adjumani district conferred upon him the unofficial tittle, “the farmers’ member of parliament.”

Developing the farm

To expand and develop his farm, Hajj Suleiman began hiring cheap labour from Maracha, a neighbouring district.

He uses the hired labour to dig, weed under the plantation and plant seedlings that people do not buy.

As a result, his farm is a green panorama of five acres of Teak trees, three acres of eucalyptus, one acre of gravellier, one acre of Gama-Lenya (an oil producing tree species) and three acres of pine.

He also grows food crops like cassava, cowpeas, beans, groundnuts and other rare fruit trees species.

Vegetables such as okra, onions, cabbages and yams and sugarcane plantations run along Nyaitre River that dissects his farm into two.

He has embarked on a serious banana plantation that he thinks will be his food for breaking fast during next year’s Ramadan period.

Hajj Suleiman has been a renowned cocoa farmer since 1997 but he has been growing an unpopular species. This year, he decided to clear all those species and has planted 180 species of cocoa said to be on demand and is looking forward to start reaping dividends in three years’ time.

Suleiman’s farming secret is that he cultivates the gardens early and plants crops at the onset of rains. He is a man who naturally loves farming unlike today’s energetic youths who waste energy on chewing mairungi at the trading centres.

Growing popularity

As a result of his farming instincts, Suleiman has steadily grown in popularity.

His “green” farm attracts many high profile visitors who always get amazed by the illiterate man’s achievements.

On October 5, 2006 Mr Baba then a state minister in the office of the Vice president visited Mr Suleimani.

In his remarks left in an old coverless visitors’ book, Mr Baba wrote: “Hajj Suleiman and family, if we have 30 farmers like you in Koboko, this district will change forever!! Well done and I am absolutely impressed by the farming you do. Let God grant you good health and very long life.”

Hajj Jabir SuleimanHajj Jabir Suleiman weeding his Teak nursery bed. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

On June 10, 2007, Mr Baba who had sold seeds to Suleiman visited again.

“The pines and eucalyptus tree seedlings have developed marvellously. When planted, there should be a beautiful plantation around, which will be to our happiness,” he remarked.

On August 6, 2007, it was Mr Baba’s then boss the former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya’s turn to visit and congratulate Mr Suleiman.

“Thank you very much for the work; keep it up,” the Vice President of Uganda wrote to Suleiman.

Marketing

Because he is well known, traders go to buy whatever produce they want from Suleiman’s home at farm gate price.

These come from Congo, Sudan, Koboko town and other parts of Uganda. Those currently harvesting timber and Teak logs from Mr Suleiman’s forest are shrewd businessmen from Kampala capital city.

The Koboko district local government and organizations such as Associazione Centro Aiuti Volontari (ACAV) also buy large percentage of his seedlings.

Currently, ACAV gave orders for him to raise 15,000 seedlings of pine, gravellier and eucalyptus at sh500 per seedling.

This means Suleiman is assured of pocketing sh7.5m from this deal.

His net profit from the sells of different enterprises is difficult to compute because of lack of records.

Hajj Jabir SuleimanHajj Jabir Suleiman now reaping cash from timber. PHOTO BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU

Achievements

Although the large plantation of artificial forest is an achievement in itself, Suleiman points out his ability to have afforded school fees for his children especially those who were interested in education.

One of his daughters works with bringing recourses across communities (BRAC), a local financial institution operating in Koboko.

Married to four wives, Suleiman, a member of the panel of judges of Koboko district Sharia court is ably looking after his family well.

He has constructed a commercial building in Koboko town that he has rented out in order to get more regular income.

Advice to the Youth

Hajj Suleiman advises the youth with unutilized pieces of land in villages to use them for planting trees which may be beneficial for them in future. He also advises people to use such trees for demarcation to avoid future land wrangles.