In the village of Lugi Kona, four kilometres from Wakiso town, is a farmer that has changed his fortunes by venturing in courgette.
Raised by a peasant mother, Joseph Kamulegeya had never thought of venturing into farming. However, after dropping out of school, he could not look any further other than embracing the hoe. Assisting his mother with farm work during the school holidays, Kamulegeya says growing courgette was his mother’s source of income. However, witnessing brokers come to his home village buying courgette from his mother and other several farmers within the neighbourhood, he noticed they were being cheated.
“After harvest, my mother would wait for brokers to buy the produce. These would supply them in different markets.” He claims that selling the produce through brokers did not give farmers a chance to reap maximum profits from courgette.
At some point, this discouraged Kamulegeya from taking a step towards farming.
However, after failing to find a job after Senior Four, his last resort was farming - a decision he has never regretted.
His mother provided him with a piece of land in 2010 and Kamulegeya started tilling the land. He grew his first courgette plants in early June and by end of July, he was harvesting. Kamulegeya says having watched his mother grow courgette, starting was easy since it did not require him to learn lessons. With Shs20,000 he set the ball rolling. “I used the money to buy certified seeds from one of the shops at Container Village,” he recalls.
Since he had already noticed that selling produce through brokers was a way of cheating the farmers, Kamulegeya’s target was to get a direct market for his produce. However, this did not come as easy as he had expected.
Before his first harvest, Kamulegeya had to make a survey around the markets. He visited Nakasero, Owino, Kibuye and Kalerwe markets but finding buyers was difficult as many claimed to have permanent suppliers. This affected his first harvest.
“I did not make much from my first harvest, as most of the produce went to waste, but this did not discourage me,” he says. To survive the next season, the solution was to sell at a slightly lower price than his competitors and with time, Kamulegeya was able to penetrate the market.
With a variety of courgette seedlings on the market, Kamulegeya grows Ambassador F1. He explains that this type grows fast and yields deep green cylindrical courgettes.
When planting courgette, a farmer should at least put three seeds in a hole of about 13 to 15 cm with a spacing of four feet apart.
He adds that plenty of water is required, especially at the stage when the plants start flowering and bearing fruits. “For farmers with big farms, watering may seem difficult especially if you do not have an irrigation system. In such cases farmers are advised to mulch around the plant.” Weeding is done regularly because weeds may harbour diseases and pests that are most likely to affect the vegetable.
From farming on a 50 by 70ft plot of land, nine years down the road, Kamulegeya has three acres allocated to courgette. He harvests about 12 bags of 30 kilogrammes weekly during the season. For better results, the harvest is done twice or thrice a week. Harvest is done by cutting the fruits off rather than pulling fruits off to avoid damaging the plant.
“Courgette matures in about one month and two weeks. It is harvested at about three to four inches long. At this stage, the vegetable is on a high demand and can stay fresh for about three days. On the other hand, clients say such courgette tastes better than the one that is over sized,” he explains. Noting that early harvest also gives room for the growth of more fruits thus continuous picking.
With good farming practices, harvesting courgette can last for one to two months. Being a fragile vegetable, a lot of caution is required especially at harvest time. “When harvesting, you are required to cut the fruit from its base taking care not to damage the plant because when it is poorly cut the chances of rotting are high,” he reveals.
Today, Kamulegeya sells to premium and regular customers from Nakasero market, Owino market and hotels. He says a kilogramme of courgette is sold at Shs2,500 and a bag costs between Shs75,000 and Shs150,000. However, this depends on the season.
“Penetrating the market is not easy, but once you are there, courgette is an instant money spinner that can be grown and sold throughout the year,” he emphasises.
Most preferred types
Kamulegeya says that the type of seed grown is an important factor to consider. There are quite a number of types to choose from, such as: Cera F1, Simba F1, Ambassador F1, and Black beauty. However, he says Ambassador F1 is preferred by most farmers because it is resistant to pests, gives higher yields in big quantities and matures within a short period.
The crop is attacked by pests and diseases similar to those that affect cucurbits (cucumber, melon and pumpkin) although zucchini is the toughest of them all.
They include fruit flies, epilachna beetle, spider mite, white fly, powdery and downy mildew and wet rot (if vines are grown on the ground), mosaic virus and wilt.
Despite the challenges that tag along in every venture, Kamulegeya looks at growing courgette with no regrets. With three acres of courgette, a house and a plot, he owes this to persistence and determination.