Open the door to the brick outbuilding next to Jesca Namusoke’s house, and you’ll see about 100 white chickens scurrying around, feeding on bowls of grain and pecking at the hard dirt floor. This room, lit by a small window and a solar lamp, used to be the place where Jesca’s oldest children slept. Now they’re away at university, so Jesca converted the space into a makeshift barn.
Chickens are a lucrative business for Jesca, a 45-year-old smallholder farmers from Buramya village in eastern Uganda. Jesca buys baby chicks shortly after they’re hatched from a neighboring supplier, and she spends the next few months raising them until they’re large enough to be sold. Each young bird costs her the equivalent of about 60 U.S. cents. Once they’re fully grown, she can sell them for up to 10 times that amount.
Jesca only started her poultry operation two years ago, but it’s the realization of a long-held dream. Jesca is a natural business woman, but until recently, she never had enough start-up money to buy a flock of chickens, let alone enough grain to feed them throughout the year. Jesca’s family is large -- five children of her own, plus five nieces and nephews she adopted after her sister died. For many years, the family struggled even to feed themselves from the income of Jesca’s 1.5-acre farm and her husband’s job as a shopkeeper in town.
Things started to change in 2015, when Jesca joined One Acre Fund. For the first time, she received high-quality seeds and fertilizer for her farm, and she learned how to plant her crops properly, spacing one seed in every hole. When harvest rolled around, Jesca collected four times more maize than she ever had before. Finally, the family had enough income to invest, and Jesca could build the poultry business she’d been dreaming about.
“I wanted to put my harvest money somewhere where it could make more profits,” Jesca says, reminiscing while sitting in the front yard of her home. “I always had a big vision for this business and my farm.”
Now, Jesca has become well-known in her community -- she sells chickens to many of her neighbors, as well as some local hotel and restaurant proprietors. She likes the financial independence it gives her, and the family is no longer stressed about making ends meet.
Jesca says her kids don’t mind that she converted their former bedroom into a barn, because the chickens are paying for their university tuition -- two of her children are studying accounting, and a third is majoring in psychology. Her younger children also recently started attending private schools. It’s more expensive, but worth the investment for a better education, she says.
Jesca never had a chance to finish secondary school, and her husband only has a primary school education.
“Our children are very bright, so I wanted to support them to achieve a higher level,” Jesca says. She’s also proud of what she’s been able to accomplish for herself. “It is rare to find a woman here who has money. I feel strong.”