The very first interaction with Moses Mbaziira, 39 at his stall at Sheraton Kampala Hotel during an exhibition was telling of how passionate he was about what he was doing – growing flowers in the family of cactus and succulents, from seeds! The way he expressly explained all about the plants, how he handled them; was all enough. Further still, a visit to his three-acre farm located in Nalugala Garuga that houses The Potting Shed – his company - gives one insight into his love for cacti and succulents.
Mbaziira, who claims to be the only person who grows Cacti from seeds in East Africa gets his love for nature, flowers and subsequently, Cactus and succulent flowers from the job he used to do.
“I stopped in Primary Two because of financial problems and I came to Kampala to work. Through my first employer, I started playing football in the 90s and early 2000s as well as working as a gardener, and I enjoyed it,” he explains, adding that it was his next employer that made him fall in love with cacti.
“He had travelled and brought one or two cacti with him for me to see whether they would grow in our weather. They did! Next, I told him to bring me seeds and he did, and I grew the seeds. Though it was just for the garden, the cacti grew so many, and I started thinking of selling some off. My employer encouraged me, and he said in future, this could be a job for me,” he reminisces.
To enable Mbaziira to get seeds, his employer also helped him join the World Cacti Society. “That is where I started, in 2008, and I put them on the market in 2015, after seven years. In those years, I was just experimenting and finding ways of getting knowledge of growing cacti in Uganda and I did, that is why I am planning to write a book,” he proudly says.
Getting into the market
In 2015, at a Christmas Bazaar at the International School of Uganda Mbaziira first put his products on the market and managed to sell plants of Shs300,000 in just one day. “That was what I used to earn a month! So, when I went back, I was more energised to do this,” he says and from then, he started looking for the market.
He joined Uganda Tropical Plants Association and the Backyard Gardeners Group, Uganda for more exposure, but also reaching out to potential customers on a personal level. Customers would also recommend other people to him and so he gradually built his clientele. As he went about this, he was growing cacti in his employer’s backyard.
On his farm where he relocated to six months ago after investing all his savings in it, Mbaziira has two greenhouses of about 30X20 metres each. Here, he grows cacti and succulents of about 200 species. He estimates to have more than 7,000 plants ready for sale, and still growing more. He employs five permanent workers, and two part-time workers making a total of seven employees.
“I start to sell the plants at two or two and a half years starting from shs10,000 and the prices depend on the age/size of the plant. However, there are those already potted. These go for higher prices. A month, I make between Shs2,500,000 to 3,000,000,” he shares.
He, however, notes that largely, the market for cacti and succulents in Uganda is still low. “Only some of those people who are exposed and who have travelled appreciate the products. So, I still have that struggle to teach Ugandans about the plants I have and their advantages. But again, there is still more to invest in. Since 2008, I have been investing largely, in buying pots (which I import from the UK) and the seeds, which I also import, though I don’t import every time,” says Mbaziira.
As a member of the Backyard Gardeners, a group of about 5,000 gardeners who work from small spaces, he last year won an award as the best exhibitor among all florists.
“I envisage this place to be a tourist place, and not just to sell cacti and succulents but a place where people can come to learn about these things. I plan to grow those bigger cacti and just rent them out to hotels or anyone who may be interested in hiring them. I believe that with time, I will start exporting these plants, especially within East Africa,” Mbaziira believes.
Among the infrastructure, he plans to put up is an exhibition hall, for schools for example to come and learn, demonstration gardens where people can see how to use cacti and succulents, water tanks to water the plants around, among others.
Cactus is a perennial arid or desert plant grown as a floor or house plant.
This strikingly succulent plant has of recent gained popularity amongst the juicing individuals, and I think it’s attributed to the benefits which come with consuming the plants juice. The plant can grow to up to 3 to 10 ft or more in height. In Luganda we locally call it ‘Engabo ya Kabaka’.
Common cactus varieties
There over 13 popular varieties of the cactus plant and these include: zygocactus, schlumbergera, natocactus, mammillaria, echinocactus, cleistocactus, chamaecereus, cereus, cephalocerus, astrophytum, and opuntia (this is the prickly pear cactus).
Soil requirements for growing cacti
Cactus being mostly a dry land plant, it mainly requires very porous sandy loam soils with a leaf mold heap or a little organic matter to boost its mineral content.
How to propagate cactus on your farm
Cactus can be started using seed or cuttings in form of stems cuttings, leaf cuttings or even offsets (like the small plantlets separated from the stock of the parent plant).
Cactus as an ornamental plant
Choose a healthy piece of stem at least 10cm along, and cut it off cleanly using tongs to hold.
Sit the cutting in an airy surface like the window sill until the cut surface heals or cures.
Apply powdered sulphur on the cut surface to help prevent infection.
To plant, get a pot or a polybag and fill it with sandy loam soils mixed with a little compost to boost fertility.
Place the base of the cutting to a depth of about 2cm, or deep enough that it stands upwards.
Uses of the cactus plant
Aside from being an ornamental species of plant, there are varieties of cactus that are consumed by people, like the prickly pear cactus.
The plant is used as a super food by dieticians; its pulp and juice are used to treat skin wounds, stomach swelling, digestive problems and urinary tract infections.
In modern medicine, however, prickly pear cactus extract are used to treat type 2 diabetes, colitis, high cholesterol and benign enlargement of the prostate gland.
Quick tips for planting cactus plant at your home
Prepare potting container filled with humus reach sandy loam soils.
You can acquire a healthy seedling or cut a stem from an old plant of about 10cm when you are up for self propagating.
Apply powdered sulphur or ash to prevent infection.
In a potting container drill a 2cm hole and sit the cutting in the middle.
Cover with the soil and sprinkle water on the soil.
Groom by cutting and watering to maintain a beautiful plant.
At a mature stage of the stems you can go ahead and harvest the stems for other uses.