Wednesday July 9 2014

‘Pawpaws earned me everything I own’

Ssemwogerere shows off the fruits of his

Ssemwogerere shows off the fruits of his labour. He says pawpaws are easy to manage.. Photo by Fred Muzaale 

By Fred Muzaale

I am Nelson Ssemwogerere, a resident of Walubira village, Ntunda Sub-county in Mukono District. I am a commercial pawpaw and pineapple farmer. I have been growing these two crops for the last 10 years. But before I took on these two ventures, I was growing coffee as my main cash crop. But after my coffee trees were destroyed by the coffee wilt disease, I contemplated on which crop I would grow to substitute coffee. The destruction of my coffee garden brought misery to me because it was my main cash earner.

In 2004, I visited a friend in the neighbouring Kyabazaala village, who was growing pawpaw on a commercial scale. I asked him how he was finding the crop and he told me that growing the crop was very profitable as it doesn’t require a lot capital in terms of starting it and maintaining the garden. Because of the good things I had been told about pawpaw growing, I decided to give it a try. I started by renting one acre of land at Shs1.5m for a period of five years. I got a ripe pawpaw from which I got healthy seeds, which I used to make a nursery bed. The pawpaw seeds I got were of the variety whose fruit is big with a yellow flesh. I chose this variety because it has a longer shelf life compared to the variety with red flesh. The pawpaw fruit is big and tasty.

How I went about it
I dried the seeds in the sun. I got loam soil mixed it with sandy soil to improve on its drainage. I also mixed cow dung in the soil to improve its more fertility. I bought one kilogramme of polythene bags at Shs2,000 a kilogramme from an agro shop in Mukono Town.
I later put the soil and cow dung mixture in the polythene bags. After that, I put two pawpaw seeds in each polythene bag containing the soil.

I made sure the seeds were well placed in the middle of the polythene bags. In total, I had 200 bags.
Afterwards I placed the bags containing the seeds under a shed, which I had made from poles and banana leaves and grass. I used the leaves and grass to cover the top of the nursery bed. The place where I put the nursery bed was a bit raised to avoid running water from washing away my seeds.
I watered the nursery bed once every day and I was doing this in the evening or morning when temperatures are low.

I did this in the evening or morning because if you water them in the afternoon, the water will become warm due to the heat and when the plants take it, they wither. After one month when the seedlings had germinated I sprayed them with Vegimax, which is a fertiliser to make them grow healthy. I also sprayed them with Dudu cyper to kill insects that attack the leaves.
After two months, the pawpaw seedlings were ready for transplanting to the main garden. I ensured that the soil of the main garden had good drainage to avoid root rot.

I dug pits of 10ft by 10ft from one line to another and from one plant to another. Proper spacing is important because if they are not well spaced, they will just grow tall and fruiting will be poor. I started with one acre of pawpaw where I had 250 pawpaw trees.

In the pits, I put some compost manure. Because seedlings need a lot of water after they are transplanted to grow well, it is better to ensure that transplanting coincides with a rainy season. This will also lessen the work of having to water the plants. Because pawpaws grow well when they are weed-free, I mulched the garden using banana leaves and grass. If weeds are left to compete with pawpaw trees for soil nutrients and water, the trees will just grow and proper fruiting will not take place.

I didn’t spray any pesticides to kill insects since the trees were healthy.
Since pawpaw mature very fast, at only nine months I started picking ripe pawpaw. But the harvest was still low because the trees had not reached full production. Every week I was harvesting between 750 and 800 pawpaw since I was picking two to three fruits from each tree.

But when the trees were about one and half years I picked five to seven every week from each tree. My fruit is bought by traders from Kampala, Juba, Jinja and Kenya who come and buy them from the garden. I employ people who harvest them when traders come.

In 2005, I was selling the pawpaw at Shs500 during the rainy season and at Shs1,000 during the dry periods. Today I sell them at between Shs800 and Shs1, 500 for a big one.
Pawpaw prices go up during dry periods since people tend to consume them a lot during hot weather and less during rainy season.
Pawpaws grow through out the year so every time I have something to sell.
But the main harvesting season occurs between September and May.

During this period, the harvest is huge and the price is high since during this period the weather is hot and there are many festivities like Christmas when the demand for fruits is higher.
A pawpaw tree can last for as many as five to seven years under good management. But when it is very old, harvesting of fruits becomes a problem since the trees are very tall. Even then, he harvest is not very good. So it is better to cut the old trees and plant new ones which are productive.

From the one and a half acre, I got about Shs27m in a period of three years. I used the proceeds to buy my own land at Shs3m. I also used Shs4m to start the pineapple garden on land I had bought. Because my pawpaw garden is a model farm in the area, president Museveni visited it early this year and was impressed with what I do. He promised me a fruit processing factory so that I can add value to my produce and earn more from it.

Pest and diseases
The only disease that attacks my pawpaw is the fungal disease that damages the leaves. But its incidence is still low. In a whole garden I can have only two leaves attacked by the disease.
I use Dythene and Dudu Cyper to control it. Dudu cyper costs Shs10,000 a litre while Dythene costs Shs25,000 a kilo.
I spray them on the leaves after mixing it with water.

The biggest challenge I face is the fluctuating prices of pawpaw.
Sometimes if it rains a lot the demand for the fruit is very low so I have to harvest them and give them to animals to eat. This is because we can’t do anything when the pawpaw ripens. But I think in the near future we hope to get a factory which was promised to us by President Museveni to start processing them.

Secondly, getting people who work in the garden is not easy. When I get them they are very expensive.
Long dry spells also affect my plants since I cannot afford to irrigate them. During long dry periods, pawpaws don’t perform well so the harvest is poor.

The main achievement is that I have been able to buy my own land which would make me stop spending on renting land. I have also been able to meet my family needs and I pay school fees for my children promptly.

Future plans
I hope to expand on the acreage of my garden since I am about to acquire a processing plant that will enable me to add value to my produce. I hope to plant 10 acres of pawpaw and seven acres of pineapples. I also plan to buy a lorry truck that will enable me to transport manure and fruits to the garden and market repetitively.

How to make pawpaw more fruitful

Pawpaws grow well in deep loam soil, rich in humus with good drainage.
They are, however, adaptable and will tolerate many different soils including heavy clay or sand. They do not tolerate water logged soils as this leads to root rot. A farmer can use seeds from a ripe pawpaw and use them to make a nursery bed. By doing so, a farmer will not spend money on buying seedlings.

The dry pawpaw seeds should be potted in a polythene bag. The potted seeds should be placed under a shed and watered at least one in two days. When the seedlings are two months, they should be transplanted to a well prepared land whose soil should be loosened to allow free movement of roots in the soil.

Managing pest and diseases
Pawpaw is not very much susceptible to pests and diseases apart from the fungal diseases that affect the leaves by deform them.
Spraying of the affected trees with Dythene and Dudu cyper which is an insecticide once in a fortnight will control the disease.

There are many pawpaw varieties but the common ones grown by commercial farmers in Uganda are the pawpaw variety with yellow flesh and the one with yellow flesh. But the one with yellow flesh is the most grown because of its big size and longer shelf life. This variety can take about four days before it perishes. And because of its big size it fetches more money. Because of this, traders like them a lot and are marketable.

On the other hand the variety with red flesh has a short shelf life and by the time it shows signs of ripening it would take only a day before it perishes. This variety also has small fruits compared to the other one.

The market for pawpaws is growing steadily, especially with the new market in south Sudan. Pawpaws in Uganda are exported to Kenya and South Sudan. The local market for paw is also big especially in urban centers.

Ssemwogerere intercrops pineapple with bananas
I also own three acres of pineapple which I inter-cropped with banana. In the three acres I have about 25,000 pineapple and about 700 banana plants.

I started pineapple growing in 2006. I bought the suckers I used to start the venture from pineapple farmers in Kanguluimira Sub-county, Kayunga District. I bought each sucker at Shs100, so I spent Shs2.5m on buying them. Seven months after planting the pineapple, I inter-cropped it with banana. I got the banana suckers from farmers in my village, who gave them to me at no cost.

I planted varieties like mpologoma, kisansa and mbwazilume.
These varieties produce big bunches of banana and grow fast. I use coffee husks as fertilizer in the pineapple and banana plantation.

I buy truck of husks at Shs500,000 from coffee factories in Kayunga District. Every week I harvest about 5,000 pineapples which I sell at Shs1,000 for the big ones and Shs600 for small ones. In a month I earn about Shs1.7m from pineapple while from banana I can earn about Shs450,000 a month.

The customers for both pineapple and banana are from Kampala, Jinja, Mukono and Iganga. They come with trucks at my farm from where they buy the produce at farm gate price. When they buy from the garden, I am saved the burden of incurring transport costs to the market.

I also save time because I use the time I would have spent taking the produce to the market to work in my garden.