Wednesday July 16 2014

A banking job or tomatoes; she prefers the farm anytime

Teddy Kiwanuka at her farm

Teddy Kiwanuka who stays in Kampala and visits her farm thrice a week, is right now harvesting tomotoes. She is a mixed farmer, growing maize and keeping animals. PHOTOS BY Fred Muzaale. 

By Fred Muzaale

I am Teddy Kiwanuka, a commercial farmer in Luwunga village, Nama Sub-county in Mukono District. On my farm I grow maize, tomatoes, egg plants, and cabbages. I also engage in dairy farming. Even though I do farming from Nama Sub-county, I live in Munyonyo in Kampala. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Tourism from Makerere University.

Before I took on farming two years ago, I worked with a bank as a new business officer in the sales department. This job earned me a good salary. But in 2011, my colleagues and I were laid off by the bank without any prior warning. Life without a job became hard as I could not afford to provide all the things for my family as I used to. I tried to look for another job but getting one was not easy. But while I was still at a bank, I had planted three acres of maize on our family land in Nama. I planted this maize because I had heard many of our clients at the bank saying it was profitable.

I injected Shs830,000 into the project and in three months I got Shs2.2m when I sold the maize when it was still fresh. This confirmed what I had been told, that farming was profitable. So when I lost my job, my mind went straight to farming since we had plenty of idle land. I decided to dedicate all my energy to it and swore never to be employed again. But the start was not easy. I had no money as I had spent all the savings on hunting for another job and looking after my family. But this didn’t stop me from starting. I used the little money I had to kick-start the venture.

Tomato venture
After selling the maize, I got money which I used to start the tomato growing. I also continued growing maize. At first, I bought Danny and Maxim tomato varieties which I planted but I didn’t do well because they required me to erect sticks on which they would climb since this variety is a climber. But because I had never grown tomatoes I didn’t know that this variety grows well when grown in a greenhouse.

I tried to tie ropes on the tomato vines but even then they didn’t do well. Even though I was frustrated by this, I decided to ask farmers who had experience in growing tomatoes. These farmers advised me to get ripe tomatoes and squeeze out seeds as this saves money. They told me to grow Assilla tomato variety locally known as musununu because they are marketable since they have a longer shelf life on top of having high yields.

I took the advice and got the tomatoes from which I got the seeds. I dried the seeds, and potted them in polythene bags. In the polythene bags I put soil I had mixed with compost manure. Potting the seeds saves time when it comes to transplanting as the farmer just carries the whole pot to the hole with the soil. The polythene bag is removed before planting. Potted seedlings also don’t wither easily as the soil is carried and planted with them.

I put the potted seeds in a nursery bed which I had made. Within a period between three to four weeks the seedlings were ready for transplanting into the main garden that had well drained soils.

At the start, I planted three acres of tomatoes, where I injected Shs3m. I spent this money on clearing the garden, buying pesticides and artificial fertilisers such as Vegimax, Dythene and others. I also used it to pay for the labour during transplanting, weeding, mulching and spraying the tomato. In the main garden I dug holes where I put some compost and farm yard manure to enhance soil fertility. It is, however, advisable that the seedling should be planted some inches away from the manure. Planting directly into where the manure is affects the seedling by making it wither.

Maintenance
A week after transplanting I started spraying the tomato plants with DAP fertiliser or BOOST (all chemical fertilisers) to boost their growth and also make them strong and healthy. DI grow (green) should also be applied on the tomatoes to boost growth of the plant. But the dosage to be applied depends on the health of the crops.

Even though insecticide and fertilisers are important for proper tomato growth, they should not be applied at the same time as insecticides weaken the strength of fertiliser. I also mulched the tomato garden with grass. Mulching controls weeds and also conserves water in the soil.

Challenges
The tomatoes were attacked by leaf spot disease. This disease manifests itself as black spots in the centre of the leaf. The affected leaves turn yellow, before falling off. It is caused by long periods of warm and wet weather. To control it I sprayed the tomato plants with Dythene.

Another disease that attacked my tomato was the tomato blight disease which is caused by a fungus. Its symptoms include; dark brown round patches on leaves and stems. I control it with fungicides. But during flowering periods, I don’t spray them with concentrated insecticides as this will either kill or scare away bees and other insects crucial in pollination.

If pollination does not take place, the fruiting may not happen. Even then, the un-concentrated insecticides should be applied only twice a month to give time for insects to carry out pollination. When they are still young I spray three times a week but when I begin harvesting I only spray once a week. But this also depends on the weather. When it is raining you have to spray regularly as the insecticides are washed away as soon as they are sprayed on the plants.

I began harvesting tomatoes after two months. Before they reached their peak, I was picking five boxes of tomatoes. But when they reached their peak, I harvested 20-25 boxes of tomatoes.

Market for tomatoes
My tomatoes are bought by traders from Kampala and Juba in South Sudan. They buy the tomatoes from the garden. They are the ones who hire people who do the work of picking. When they are done with picking tomatoes, they sort the tomatoes according to their size. The price for a big box of tomatoes is higher than that of small ones.

Currently, I sell a box of tomatoes at Shs150,000 but the price can reach Shs250, 000 during scarcity and can also go down to Shs50,000 a box. Prices for tomatoes are high between January and February because few farmers can afford to look after tomatoes during the heavy November rains. Rains wash away the insecticide and fertiliser sprayed on the plants.

On my farm, I employ four permanent workers who help me with weeding, harvesting and other work. I pay them Shs100, 000 a month. I keep records of whatever I do which helps me know whether I am making profits or losses. This work is easy for me since I am well acquainted with book keeping and accounting.

Challenges

My biggest challenge is that people in this area don’t want to work and the few who are willing to work are very expensive. This means that sometimes I don’t have people to work in my garden.
Secondly, I have inadequate money to hire people who do the weeding, harvesting and spraying. Because of this I find myself losing some crop to weeds and insects. Another challenge I face is the fluctuation in prices of agricultural produce which leads to improper planning. When prices go down I make losses and vice versa.

Achievements
My biggest achievement is that currently, I have time to be with my family unlike when I was still a banker. I only go to my garden at least three times a week depending on the work I have to do. During harvesting and planting time I am in the garden regularly than when it’s time for weeding.
Secondly, I am able to save some money because I no longer buy food. I use this money to do other things.
In future I plan to engage in export of produce i. e maize flour and tomatoes. But this requires me to buy machinery that will help me add value to my produce. I hope to start this in three years’ time.

Advice
My advice to people who want to join farming is that they should join it without expecting to get quick returns. They should be patient and dedicate their time if they are to gain from farming.
Farming is a well-paying business and I don’t plan to stop it soon.

How I started

I started serious farming in 2012. Since I had earlier grown maize and it seemed profitable, I decided to start with something I know. I started with eight acres of maize. I began with a bigger maize acreage because I thought it would be economically viable than a small one.

I ploughed the land using a tractor, paying Shs500, 000 for the tractor services. I later went to Farm Inputs Care Centre (FICA) in Kawempe and bought 64kg of Longe 6H maize variety. I bought each kilogramme at Shs4,000 so I spent Shs256, 000 on buying seed. On each acre, I planted 8kg of maize seed. I chose to plant this Longe 6H variety because its fresh maize is liked by customers. Even its maize flour is liked. Besides this, their yield is high and matures in only three and half months.

I hired people who dug the holes at a spacing of 75cm by 35cm. In the holes, I put some little DAP fertiliser to boost plant growth. I later covered the fertiliser with a thin layer of soil and then planted two seeds in each hole. It is advisable to plant only two seeds because if you plant more than two, they will not be healthy as they will compete for soil nutrients and water.

When the maize was one month old or at a knee height, I sprayed it with Vegimax fertiliser to boost its growth. Vegimax contains nitrogen that is needed by plants to grow well. I bought the Vegimax fertiliser at Shs1,500 each. Vegimax is sprayed on the crops after mixing it with water.

After three months and a half, the maize was mature and ready to be eaten fresh. So I sold each acre of fresh maize at Shs850, 000 and got Shs6.8m. I sold the fresh maize to a school that later harvested it when it was dry. My work ends at the time of selling the fresh maize so it’s the buyer to harvest it. I give the buyer some reasonable time to harvest his/her maize. In most cases those who buy the maize also sell it to people who boil it and sell it in Kampala and other urban centres. In case it is bought by a school, it is milled and fed to students.

I don’t want to sell dry maize seeds because I have discovered that it is more profitable when I sell it when it is fresh. This is because I don’t incur extra costs in form of hiring people who harvest it. It also saves me the hustle because I don’t have proper storage facilities to store the maize seeds. But in future I hope to mill the maize and sell maize flour.

By doing so, I hope to earn a bit more than when I sell fresh maize. To ensure that my maize doesn’t mature at the same time, which leads to poor prices as the supply will be high on the market, I plant it at different times.

I ensure that each garden is of a different stage of at least two to three weeks. Currently, I have 17 acres of maize but 10 acres will be ready for sale in two weeks while the rest will be ready in late August. The one that would mature in August will be at a higher market than this one I am about to sell because by that time there will be low supply of fresh maize on the market as it will be an off season.

I am able to grow crops even during long droughts like the one in August because I pump water from a swamp located in our land to a water tank from where I get it to irrigate the crops. I employ people to irrigate the crops. I didn’t incur any costs to buy the water pump as it was bought by my father long time ago.

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