Ezekiel Eituno does not regret quitting teaching in 2003 for fruit farming, writes, Simon Peter Emwamu
When one thinks of oranges in Dokolo village, Gweri Sub County, Soroti District one man comes to mind.
Ezekiel Eituno has been growing oranges on his 10-acre farm since 2003 and it has been a long and arduous journey to keep the venture alive.
Eituno, a teacher by training did not imagine that through farming he could secure a reasonable livelihood, the kind he leads today. His answer came in 2003 when he took up the orange agribusiness project, which he has dedicated his entire time.
“When my wife and I first moved to this piece of land, we noticed everyone was planting traditional crops such as yellow sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet, maize and groundnuts,” Eituno says.
But poor rains are a big problem for farmers in the semi-arid region and harvests are poor for most crops.
But unwilling to take a lead from his neighbours, Eituno decided to try something different, oranges.
“I did not know I could succeed in orange farming, but I wanted to try it out of curiosity,” he says.
One of the key challenges was the climate, which is semi-arid and dry most of the year and this is a problem to young orange seedlings.
Eituno developed interest in citrus fruit farming after attending the Naads citrus fruits farming training in 2003.
“Naads came at the right time. When they started to train farmers in orange growing, I never hesitated to jump on board whereas others sat back, I expressed interest, since then the shift in my welfare has made me a role model in orange farming,” Eituno says.
After the training Eituno quit his teaching job to concentrate on farming. He planted oranges on 10 acres.
His model farm hordes 2,000 grated trees of Valencia and Hamline varieties.
Because of their high juice content, the two varieties are on high demand among juice manufacturing industries in the neighbouring East African countries especially Kenya.
The gorgeousness about citrus growing, Eituno adds, is such that it is labour intensive but equally paying for a farmer who attends to his orchards to fight off pests, fungal infection and disease outbreak.
“I do not take risks; I immediately spray pesticides whenever the trees sprout new leaves,” he says.
Unfortunately, Eituno adds that some farmers who have cleared off their farms due to infection and disease burden, failed to understand the time to spray, “Citrus business needs unquestionable commitment, any laxity can cause damage hard to reverse,”
Eituno reveals he harvests about 5,000 bags of oranges per annum. He sells each bag at Shs85,000 to middlemen from Rwanda and Kenya. From 5,000 bags, Eituno pockets Shs425m per annum.
“Most of the oranges are exported to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya. The balance is sold in major markets here in Uganda,” he says.
Eituno’s farm is one of the study centres where farmers converge to learn the best orange practices. “They come here to seek knowledge on how to maintain orange orchards which are free of pests and diseases,” he reveals. Besides farmers, Eituno also hosts students from agriculture centres.
Eituno reveals how difficult it would be to raise tuition in this era with a lot of responsibilities had it not been for the orange venture he undertook, “From oranges I am proud to say I have a handful of degree holders and more coming, helped me acquire additional lands elsewhere, that is pride I bestow on this project,”
According to Eituno the market for the fruits keeps dwindling every year. “The market is getting crowded because many farmers are producing oranges,” he says. The cost of pesticides has also gone up.
Once you plant your seeds and germination occurs, you will notice that instead of one sprout from each seed, you will have three sprouts. Orange seeds are called nucellar seedlings. Many citrus trees have this type of seedlings.
The sprouts are just like “clones” of the parent tree. Unlike human babies, which have genes from parents, grandparents and other ancestors, the orange tree makes a clone of the one parent tree.
A clone is exactly like what it originated from - whereas a child with genes is unique. The child is not exactly like either parent. The genes the child receives are a random mix that is totally unique to this individual.
Of these three orange sprouts, two will be “vegetative” clones that are stronger and one will be “genetic” and weaker. Pull out the weaker, slow-growing sprout and throw it away (or let it grow as an experiment.) Your other two sprouts may grow into an orange tree.
Aside from the obvious benefits of growing your own organic fruit for the nutrition value, freedom from pesticides and waxes, and the great taste, there are other benefits of growing fruit trees:
•Trees filter the air
•Trees condition the soil
•Trees provide shade
•They shelter wildlife
•They attract pollinators to your other plants
Here are a few more tips for planting orange seeds. Once your sprout has started, keep it growing by following these tips:
•Place it in full sunlight
•Plant in rich, fertile, well-drained soil
•Container plants dry out faster than those in the ground – do not forget to water your orange tree
•Feed it about once every 10 to 14 days with a well-rounded organic fertiliser
•Use compost in the soil mix in your container or garden
•Add a layer of mulch on top to help retain moisture
•Keep it in warm temperatures (never below 25 degrees F)
•If you placed it in a container, transplant it every so often to ensure the roots have room to grow
•Remember the mature specimen will be eight to ten feet tall and almost that wide - this tree needs space to grow
•Should pests become a problem once fruiting occurs, only use organic pesticides since you do not want to contaminate your fruit
•Fall is a great time for planting fruit trees
•If the weather is freezing, move your tree inside or into a greenhouse
Now that you know how to plant orange seeds, you may want to plant a whole orchard. Do not be surprised if the neighborhood wants to buy some of your delicious homegrown oranges!