‘Pawpaws earned me everything I own’
Posted Wednesday, July 9 2014 at 01:00
On losing his coffee plantation to wilt, Nelson Ssemwogerere turned to pawpaw growing after a tip from a friend that they are rewarding. He does not regret the decision, writes 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.