I am Suuna Kagga, 25, a resident of Lutengo village, Nama Sub-county in Mukono District. I own Tengo Fresh Farm, which has vegetables—tomatoes, cabbages, onions, green and sweet pepper—under greenhouse. There is also cassava and cabbages under open field farming.
My interest in farming begun while I was attending high school in South Africa, 2005 and 2006. Many of the students who seemed well-to-do came from families involved in agribusiness. I visited some of their homes and saw that they were making a lot of money from commercial farming.
In 2011, I completed my degree in finance and accounting at University of Kent, UK and came back to Uganda. I searched for jobs but did not like what was offered.
So, I started dealing in real estate where I was getting a commission on each house or land sold. I did this for six months but did not make the kind of money I expected.
Around that time, my schoolmates from South Africa paid me a visit. They remarked about Uganda having a huge potential of being a food basket of Africa because of its green vegetation and fertile soils.
This touched me, and coupled with my previous experiences, I decided to engage in commercial farming.
But I had no money to invest. So, I approached my father and shared the idea with him. He promised to support me financially.
Our family owned 23 acres of land in Mukono District. This is what one I used.
I get started
Choosing which crops to grow was a challenge. There were many crops to choose from but I decided to go for vegetables. Compared to other crops, with vegetables, there are three seasons a year. In addition, getting a market would not be a problem as the farm is not far from Kampala, Mukono and other urban centres.
I began by growing different types of vegetables; onions, green pepper, sukuma wiki, tomatoes, cabbages, dodo, among others under open field farming.
My intention was to find out which vegetables were viable, which ones were prone to attacks by pests and diseases. I grew each type of vegetable on an acre. I spent about Shs2m on seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.
In the end, I found out that cabbages, tomatoes, green pepper and onions were better suited and I decided to concentrate on these four crops.
Due to high incidence of pests and diseases coupled with unreliable rain, I incurred losses. Most were destroyed by pests and diseases even as I tried to control them with pesticides. What I harvested was poor quality.
Nonetheless, this did not deter me as I continued growing the same vegetables for three seasons with in hope of getting good harvest. But I kept suffering losses.
Later, I discovered that the pesticides were fake. It was because I did not buy them from certified agro input dealers. In spite of applying them correctly, they were not killing the pests.
In 2013, I sought help from Balton because I had heard that they had genuine seeds, fertilisers and pesticides in addition to offering technical knowledge.
They advised me to use greenhouse farming technology to deal with my predicament. I found their advice good but I had no money. Again, I approached my father who gave me Shs10m to acquire the greenhouses.
They showed what I had to do to start it like soil preparation, how to make a nursery bed and how to transplant the seedlings.
I constructed the greenhouse basing on technical knowhow from Balton. They designed the greenhouse according to the size of land I had. They provided me with all that was to be used in the farmer’s kit.
However, I used wood instead of aluminum which is recommended as it was cheaper for me in the short run. The number of greenhouses has increased, there are five now.
There are of various sizes: 24 x 40 metres, 40 x 8 metres, 20 x 8 metres and 8 x 6 metres. I plan to replace the wood with aluminum since that is durable and cheaper in a long-run.
The greenhouse comprises a shed net, which helps with ventilation, an ultra violet plastic that protects plants from direct sun, drip lines and tanks. Then, fertilisers and pesticides are applied. But the pesticides are not commonly used since the crops are hardly attacked by pests.
After installing the drip lines and arranging the bags of soil at a distance of 30cm by 30 cm with each having a drip eye for the water, I drenched the soil with fungicides. Drenching helps to kill soil-born fungal diseases. After that, I transplanted the seedlings.
Despite planting my crops in the greenhouse, my first harvest of tomatoes was not good since I had not yet got the experience in greenhouse farming. I had expected to earn about Shs20m from my yields but ended up getting only Shs3m.
Currently, I have 800 plants of Red beauty cherry tomatoes, which are the traditional small tomatoes that used to grow by themselves. This tomato variety is very nutritious and is bought by foreigners and hotels.
I also have 7,500 green pepper plants. I plant the tomatoes and green pepper at different times so that they do not mature at the same period.
This is an advantage because if I fail to get high prices for tomatoes or green pepper today, I still can get another harvest the following month.
Every seven days, I harvest 300-450kgs of tomatoes while for pepper, I harvest 240-370kgs. The greenhouses now cover 2,000 square metres.
Because I harvest throughout the year, my produce fetches higher prices during dry seasons. There is limited supply of vegetables on the market as most farmers cannot grow them during dry periods.
For instance, during good weather when there is high supply of vegetables, a 70kg sack of tomatoes goes for Shs30,000 but the prices shoot up to Shs250,000 during dry periods.
After harvesting, I weigh and pack them in plastic crates. I also pack the tomatoes in polythene bags. Despite the fact that my packages do not have a brand name, I plan to get it soon.
Using proceeds from my farm, I have bought several plots of land where I plan to build houses for rent next year. I expect to be earn about Shs4m monthly, which would supplement the income I get from farming.
The farm has given me employment, I do not think of being employed. I am my own boss. My advice to those who want to invest in farming is they should be patient and persevere because the benefits do not come easily.