Making the most out of small-scale farming

Tuesday July 3 2012

(LEFT) Ms Harriet Nakabale plucks spinach from a sack that doubles  as a garden in her compound. (RIGHT) Ms Nakabale shows a section of straw berries from her home based farm.

(LEFT) Ms Harriet Nakabale plucks spinach from a sack that doubles as a garden in her compound. (RIGHT) Ms Nakabale shows a section of straw berries from her home based farm. Photo by Nicholas Kalungi 

By NICHOLAS KALUNGI

It is 6:00pm, and after a few calls, I finally meet Ms Harriet Nakabale, the 43-year-old urban farmer.
Located less than 100 metres from the main road opposite, Kawaala police station, Ms Nakabale’s home is filled with a variety of crops and poultry from the entry to her door step.

Surprisingly, her crops are grown from sacks, jerrycans, soda bottles, old gum boots, crates, and pots. She lives on a 32 by 50 ft plot. With a house, she remains with less than a 20 by 20 ft piece from which she plants crops.
Ms Nakabale, is living a good life, thanks to her smart idea of farming on a very small piece of land.

While many people wake up very early in the morning to get to their workplaces, Ms Nakabale moves to her verandah and work begins.

“I have been doing this work for more than 10 years with no regrets whatsoever. I have been able to achieve a lot from working around my small compound, more than many that have acres of land. I have won different awards in recognition of my exemplary services to the community,” Ms Nakabale said while taking me around her small farm.

She added: “I have got local and international friends. People come from all parts of the world to visit and learn from my experience. We feed on a balanced diet, my children go to school and one has been able to finish at Makerere University. I pay their school fees from the profits I make from this small business.”

She mainly grows food spices, vegetables and fruits. Spices include Basil, Lavanda, Spearmint, all types of onions, Chives, Dill and Oregano among others. Vegetables in her compound include Sukuma wiki, Lettuce, Beetroot, Pakchoi, Chinese cabbage, Spinach, Butternut and Paslee. She also has a growing apple tree.

Unlike many farmers who depend on natural soils for cultivation, Ms Nakabale uses organic residues for soil. She does not have enough land or soil to cultivate, as a result; she improvises; mixing sorted household garbage, chicken and animal residues and ash to form soil.

“When I realised that I do not have land for cultivation, I thought of a way of creating artificial soil. I always get a big box and put in rotting garbage as first layer, chicken and animal residues as second layer and ash as the third layer.”

She adds: “When the box is full, I cover it with dry grass and tie it with strong polythene to ensure that moisture does not escape. After about one and a half months, it has converted into soil. All these inputs I get them free of charge. My neighbours give me the garbage because this is town and they have nowhere to throw it.”

Several opportunities have come along the way for her. As a result for this flourishing farming, Ms Nakabale has become a community teacher and consultant on both urban farming and food security, attracting mainly women groups for lectures on house-hold agriculture.

Neighbouring schools also bring their pupils to tour her garden and get to know different plants. Through this, she earns more money since all these groups of people pay for either touring or her lectures.

Challenges
Just like any other business, Ms Nakabale faces many challenges, her biggest being limited space for farming. Even though she confesses to making about Shs250,000 in profit from her garden monthly, she believes she would be a multi-millionaire if she had at least an acre of land.
Ms Nakabale also suffers high input costs when buying a few seeds than when she opts to buy in bulk.

Thieves had also started invading her garden at night, taking off with some of her produce and denying her an opportunity to reap as much as she would have loved to. But this is likely to reduce now that her newly built fence only lacks a gate.

She appeals to people to utilise the little they have before dreaming of bigger plots of land. “Agriculture does not require having acres of land. You can practice agriculture on your verandah, in a basin, bottle, or jerry can. Some people have huge pieces of land but do not know how to put it to use. There is no useless or poor land. It is you to make land produce what you want.”

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