Prof. Fergus Wilson should not go down history unacknowlegded. It was he who negotiated
the purchase of the 330 acre estate at a princely rate of about sh.l,000 per acre and then
embarked on the task of turning it into a standard university farm, now known as Kabanyoro
Farm. Hugo Sematimba Barlow was there in 1953 when it happened and writes:
The man who planted the beautiful Pittanga Cherry hedge in front of Makerere University main building, plus many of the trees on campus, is dead. Professor Fergus Brunswick Wilson, former dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, passed away last week in his home in Cambridge, England.
He is the man who built the modern Faculty of Agriculture complex, introduced the degree programme, started Kabanyoro University Farm, and helped to formulate and implement modern agricultural practices in Uganda and in the East African region.
The British professor came to Makerere in 1952, after a stint with the Agriculture Ministry of Zanzibar. He was astounded by what he found in the Department of Agriculture in Makerere.
It was the least popular department on the hill and the reasons were obvious. Without a home, the Department had been shoved into a little room in the Department of Science where it was barely tolerated.
There was no demonstration farm nearby where agricultural students could go for practical training. Students would instead have to stay in Serere Agricultural Research Station for a year in order to do their practicals. Supervising them was every lecturer's nightmare. The intake of agriculture students was very small. In 1953 for instance, the Department passed out only three graduates namely: Esau Galukande, Nathan Sakio and Justus Byagagaire. The diploma course offered by the department would last five years, two years shorter than the medical course.
It was Wilson who changed all this. Immediately he embarked on a tour of the three East African countries to persuade their respective governors to allocate some money to put up a respectable Faculty of Agriculture building which could accommodate at least one hundred students. The tour was successful. The building was ready in no time and was officially opened by the Queen Mother during her visit to Uganda in 1958. Former head of state, Dr. Apollo Milton Obote (by then just a member of UPC), was one of the citizens who watched the proceedings from the sideline.
Earlier, in 1952, Wilson had acquired a dilapidated estate at Kabanyolo from a Russian Jew called Dokelmann, a retired tin miner, who had in turn acquired Kabanyolo Estate from a company called Mengo Planters. The original owners were granted special licence to buy mailo land from the indigenous chiefs, and were granted freehold ownership in the early twenties to grow coffee and Para-rubber trees.
It was Wilson who negotiated the purchase of the 330 acre estate at a princely rate of about sh 1,000 per acre, and then embarked on the task of turning it into a standard university farm. The enterprising professor got deeply involved in developing it into a model university farm.
At the same time he recruited lecturers and members of staff for the Faculty which had hitherto had almost none.
By the mid fifties, he had put together a formidable team of lecturers and administrators, distinguished academicians like Dr. Margaret Keay, Dr. Wilhem Boshoff, Dr. Peter Huxley, Dr.Leakey, Dr, Mahadevan, Dr. William Banage and John Flatt. One of them later admitted what that they taught those small classes of diploma students was more or less what they later taught their degree students.
Besides being an academician, Wilson was an accomplished administrator, who always had his students' problems at heart. Every Friday night he would partake supper with the students at Kabanyolo and later spend more than two hours listening to students' personal problems. He would be up early on Saturday morning to tour the farm and discuss its various aspects with the farm manager. Some Saturdays he would join the students on their practical pastoral farm visits of the surrounding progressive farmers. Everyone would ride on a bicycle, including the professor. His students loved and trusted Mzee Wilson because he was the kind of person who would never feign to be what he was not.
Some of the luminaries who passed through the faculty under his deanship include Justus Byagagaire, Nathan Sakio, Esau Galukande, Prof. G Kiwuwa, F. X.Lubega, Peter Sibyetekerwa, David Odanga, Dr. Richard Musangi, Elizaphan Odeke, Prof. J. Dungu, Wilson Lutara, Prof. J. Oloya and many others.
He was a very practical man who would never think twice about giving a physical demonstration of what he wanted done in the field. A labourer would stand back amazed as the professor gently took a hoe from his hand and determinedly demonstrate (with a good humoured grin on his face) what he exactly wanted him to do.
He was calm, firm, considerate, and infused in his staff a high sense of duty and dedication to work. Service for him went beyond the frontiers of the Faculty of Agriculture. He was one of the consultants who designed Makerere Campus landscape. Most of the beautiful trees and hedges you find today on the campus are the result of his handiwork. The demand for his expertise came from beyond campus. Institutions like Namulonge, Kawanda, Gayaza High School, Medical School, Kasangati Health Centre and several others owe their beautiful compounds to the late professor's untiring efforts.
But what endeared him most to the people he worked with, was that unique human touch, a rare trait among men of intellect. He strived to improve the lot of the people working under him. He could remember the names of most of the staff at Kabanyolo farm. It was natural for him to offer a lift to a sick junior member of staff, and go out of his way to drop him at the sick bay. A gentleman to boot, he was the kind of person not to be fazed by situational eruptions; he would quickly sort out a difficult situation and bring raised temperatures back to normal, because of the confidence he exuded and the trust the people had in him.
Supported by a hardworking team that he had personally built, he worked hard and for long hours under trying circumstances, to get the Faculty of Agriculture on its feet. May his Soul Rest in Peace.
The writer served as farm manager of Makerere University Farm, Kabanyolo, for 27 years (1953-1980). He was there right at the beginning and took great pride in its achievements and equally shared the blame for its shortcomings. he is now retired and lives at Munyonyo By The Lake. he can be contacted on P.O. Box 5585, Kampala. Tel. 077-411411.
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