From classroom to the garden

John Baptist Buyonje, 69, has been a teacher of English and History since he left Makerere University Kampala in 1976. He has served at Gombe Secondary School, St Henry’s College, Kitovu, Bigada Secondary School, and Matale Church of Uganda Secondary School.

“When I clocked 60 years, I retired as all the rest of the people in government public service normally do. But as far as I am concerned I still have the energy to teach and it is the reason I go on teaching English and General Paper at Matale Church of Uganda Secondary School and at St Andrew’s Secondary School Matale under a private arrangement,” he told Seeds of Gold last week in his well-maintained coffee garden, located at Matale-Kinaawa, in Kalisizo Town, Kyotera District.

The garden is about three kilometres away from his home and it is just a place he always goes to for physical exercise and to be alone with nature, as he says.

The resident of Kito Village, near Kalisizo Town he owns some four acres of land where he and his wife, Sarah, practice farming as an alternative source of income to his teaching job.

They grow coffee as a cash crop and bananas, beans, maize, cassava and sweet potatoes for food. They also keep some goats.  “The coffee garden where we are sitting right now is a different and personal project where I actually come to get solace,” says the 69-year-old.

“I like meditation and I also enjoy physical work. This coffee garden gives me the freedom to be alone and to think. Sometimes when I have books to mark I bring them here and mark them without any disturbance from anybody,” he says.

Used his gratuity as capital

When he officially retired from government service about nine years ago, he received a handsome gratuity. “I had to invest the money very carefully. I had been to a farmers’ seminar at Kilumba Sub-county Headquarters where we listened to a prominent coffee farmer from Lwengo District, Musisi Ssebatta. He impressed me, and I made it a point to visit his farm. It was after my visit to Mr Ssebatta that I made up my mind to invest part of my gratuity in coffee farming. That is how I decided to buy this piece of land and to plant coffee,” he says.

It measures about two acres and it is all strongly fenced off with barbed wire and some shrubs. It has a gate that is locked all the time, whether he is in the farm or outside. “I have to ensure maximum security because there was a time when thieves came in and stole some items including tools from my store where I have since put much stronger padlocks,” he explained.

He disclosed that he earned more than Shs2m per gunny bag from the past coffee harvest.

How he does it

The garden is all mulched with grass to keep the soil moist. He applies both organic manure and inorganic manure. Some small heaps of chicken droppings could be seen around the foot of each coffee tree.

There were some red coffee cherries that were yet to be harvested and some coffee trees were still bending due to the heavy weight they carried before the last harvest took place. He has dug ditches that lead run-off rainwater from the nearby footpaths into the garden.

There are some mituba trees growing in the garden which he says are important for providing shade to the coffee trees. Here and there are some young trees planted about a year or so ago. “The trend now is to minimise spacing between coffee trees and to increase fertiliser application for maximum production,” he explained. “It is the reason I have planted more coffee trees between the older ones.”


There is a water tap right within the garden and should there be any need to do simple irrigation he does so. One of his routine jobs is to walk all over the garden inspecting and observing the crop’s performance. “We have to remember the old English saying that the best manure is the sole of the farmer’s boot,” he told Seeds of Gold to justify his frequent trips to the garden.

“I do not drink alcohol and therefore I don’t go to bars. I spend almost half of the day on Sundays in church but in the afternoon, unless there are visitors at home, I may come and read a book hiding here in my garden. On the rest of the days I am either in the classroom teaching or I am here working. I believe it is also good for my health at my age to engage in physical work,” says Buyonje.


Recently he took to bee-keeping after striking a friendship with Alexander Tukwatanize who told him about the numerous economic benefits of producing honey.

“He lives in the neighbourhood but he is originally from Ntungamo and from a family of beekeepers and cattle keepers. He has greatly assisted me to get bee-hives and to hang them under the mutuba trees. He knows so many tricks of attracting bees into the hives,” says Buyonje

He pointed to one of the recently purchased bee-hives in which there were no bees yet before disclosing that Tukwatanize had assured him that the bees would be settling into it in the next few days when it rains. He has a lot of confidence in bee-keeping because, as he said, honey is normally harvested twice in a year.

“I harvested some five kilogrammes of honey recently from just one bee-hive and earned good money,” he reveals. “I therefore expect a lot more money if I get more bee-hives.” He also said the bees play a very important role in coffee production as they facilitate pollination.

Buyonje takes pride in physical work and he has another reason for growing coffee.

“My father was a school teacher and headmaster for many years in a number of schools,” he narrated. “However he also grew coffee and was generally recognised in the entire neighbourhood as a fairly rich man since he took all of us, his children, to high-cost schools.” Buyonje went to Savio School Kisubi and St Henry’s College Kitovu and many of his brothers and sisters went to fairly good schools, ending up as teachers and nurses.

Most of his children have completed their education and he attributes his success to supplementing his teaches’ income with coffee farming.

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