By Ivan Mathias Mulumba
I recall a day we drove through Kaweri Coffee plantation, a vast coffee estate in Mubende District. It was the first time I saw a coffee farm that expansive. I asked myself: Who owns the plantation? How come they own so much? How much had they invested? What kept them going? Had the estate changed hands from one generation to another?
Months later, I went to Luweero District and stumbled onto a conversation. Two gentlemen talked about a man who owned a four-hundred-acre coffee farm that stretched up to the very place where we stood.
The road network and houses that surrounded us made their story hard to believe. They said the man did not spend much on himself, but instead invested a lot in his business. He bought more acres of land each year to expand the farm. He also bought a second-hand pick-up truck to ferry produce from his farm.
The man was able to set up a small coffee factory that was meant to launch him to greater heights. Every morning, he would wake up his children to go and work on the farm, and instilling in them the spirit of hard work in the process. And they toiled, those children. They toiled. The man wanted a better life for them. He strived to make it happen. But because of mortality, his dream was cut short by his death.
The boys inherited the farm and started selling it piece by piece as if the land were a big piece of meat. A decade later, there was no trace of the once booming coffee business.
We have heard of stories of parents who had a vision and yet their offspring failed to carry it forward. Huge estates of land that were once seen as launch pads for industrialisation and commercial farming in Uganda, are sold for pennies. The result is the emergence of hundreds of 50 by 100 plots for sale and the accompanying rising unemployment in the country.
This raises the question: When did we start thinking about land in terms of square feet? Our forefathers envisioned land in hectares and square miles.
The projection made them work hard to bring their grand visions to fruition. That is why they were able to have large coffee farms, expansive maize gardens and banana plantations that covered entire hills and valleys. The surplus produce forced them to venture into establishing processing plants as well as cottage industries to preserve and add value to their produce.
It is true that the population then was small. But that doesn’t justify our narrow vision and the way we regard and use land today. Drive on any highway and you will see clusters of homes, bushes and a few gardens, then homes, trading centres, homes, bushes, and the cycle continues.
Why is it that our forefathers, some of whom didn’t go to school, were able to dream big, yet many of us who went to school, seem to lack vision? Are we less risk takers? Has education led us onto a path that everyone travels and we shun the path less travelled? Are we mis-educated?
Nations are built against a backdrop of industrialisation. They are built on the strength of countless men who think beyond the ordinary. Above all, they are built on land. Ten small scale factories in a 10-acre piece of land have an opportunity for growth. Houses in the same piece of land will not grow to the same scale. This is why the way we choose to use land is very important. It determines our future as individuals and as a country.
If you decide to buy a 50-acre piece of land, the distance from the city centre will not matter. You will search until you find a piece of land that is close to that size or one that is bigger.
Your ideas to develop the land will push you to work and think harder. You can build a school or hospital on the land, or set up a farm, factory or housing estate. You can become a producer and not merely a consumer.
When you think in terms of 50 by 100, you rarely think beyond rental houses and small dwellings.
This could be different for a commercial plot where you can put up a commercial building. If one person thinks in terms of 50 by 100 plots, it is okay. It could match with their purchasing power. The problem is that many of us think that way. This limits us from using our God-given gifts to get the best from the land.
Creativity and land ownership go hand-in-hand. You must devise means to safeguard your land from potential encroachers. One way of doing this is by utilising the land. You must know that what works perfectly well on a given piece of land might not work on your land. So, take time and think through this and seek advice of experts and professionals.
Many people have been successful because they put to good use the properties passed onto them by their parents, mentors or colleagues. Don’t just sell your land or inheritance for pennies.
There are times when it might make sense to sell your land. For instance, when you are burdened by debts, when the costs of ownership outweigh the benefits, etc. But let’s not sell vast estates and then indulge ourselves in drinking and chasing cheap luxuries. Let’s carry on the tradition of developing land and getting the best from it. Let’s emulate our forefathers who looked at bare land and imagined the world on it.
Mr Mulumba is the chief valuer
at Buganda Land Board BLB).