Unreliable weather patterns had seen a farming couple in Nakasongola District record poor returns from their farm for years.
But not anymore. Fred Ssali and his wife Margret, who are vegetable farmers in Kigongo village, Kisalizi Sub-county, is now reaping big thanks to irrigation.
The early morning drive to the couple’s farm in Nakasongola with a team of climate change experts from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and journalists pursuing stories about farming communities utilising the available source of water for agriculture, was a nightmare.
One is welcomed by the scorching sunshine and a wave of heat. Along the way the major activity are people riding bicycles with several jerricans in search of water.
The situation is much dire for animal husbandry farmers who have to drive their heads of cattle to available water points.
Upon arrival at the farm, Ssali and his wife are busy harvesting tomatoes.
Today, the couple uses a solar-powered kit to pump water from the source, then by drip, irrigate and fertilise crops in their farm.
The family is able to grow and harvest adequate tomatoes using the available valley tank water facility.
Seeds of Gold had the opportunity to interview Margaret about the trick the family used in order harvest reasonable quantities of tomatoes and sweet potatoes during the dry spell.
The couple has been farming vegetables since 2005, a year after Ssali inherited family land. They started small, on an acre of land, which they were given by their parents.
They started off using hand hoes to cultivate and prepare the farm. Their first harvest earned them Shs1m, part of which they used to buy more hoes to help them ease tilling the land. The impressive returns season after season encouraged them to proceed.
“As a family, we have been engaged in farming for more than 15 years. Previously, we used to grow maize, groundnuts and cassava both for food and as an income earning initiative. This came in handy with the challenge of utilising a big piece of land for cultivation yet we would reap meagre profits due to the dry spell scenario in this district,” she says.
In 2014 a team of experts working under the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) in Uganda and other partners came on ground to sensitise farmers about adoption of innovative new technologies including irrigation for food production during dry season.
The farmers were asked to form farmer field schools and Ssali’s family belongs to Tumwebaze farmer field school.
The group members were sensitised about engaging in vegetable growing particularly tomatoes, nakati, eggplant and mushrooms
among others both on commercial basis and for food security.
“We started growing tomatoes on a large scale in 2017. On our farm we have sweet potatoes, tomatoes and some citrus fruits. This is after the FAO team established 10,000 cubic metre water tank on our farm to serve the surrounding communities. We use the water for crop irrigation and for household use and it has helped us a lot. We are able to earn Shs3m per season from tomato sale as well as sweet potato and citrus. However, during rainy season we still grow maize and cassava to get additional income,” she explained.
The returns have enabled them buy more farm inputs including fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and land where they have set up their home.
Today, their farm covers six acres. Part of it has been leased from their neighbours.
At the moment, Ssali says, they produce an average of 10 tonnes of tomatoes every year earning them Shs20m annually. This, he says, is their pay after deducting input costs.
“Many farmers start a project without a goal. If one has proper planning and goals, they will surely succeed,” Ssali says.
Valley tank model
The FAO representative Antonio Querido notes that the purpose of FAO availing water facilities to farming communities in the cattle corridor in the central region is to diversify production and ensure farmers can trade assorted farm commodities throughout the year as an income generating drive as well as source of food to their families.
It is an obligation that the water provided should is of good quality to serve for irrigation and animals for those keeping them as well as for human use.
He explained that when delivering the technology to the farming communities what is considered important is to ensure that it is adaptable and can be used well with less challenge.
The two have registered a remarkable journey in vegetable business and they help fellow farmers to reap better yields from the crops including tomatoes and eggplants.
The Ssalis sell their produce including tomatoes, potatoes and citrus to locals at farm-gate in Nakasongola and highway markets.
There are village markets where the wife sometimes sells produce. She sells 20 tomatoes at 1,000, a heap of sweet potatoes is sold between Shs1,000 and Shs2,000 depending on the size and weight.
Some customers come and purchase her produce on farm still at the same price.
She contends that with the irrigation technology, her family is in position to grow these agricultural produce throughout the yet previously during dry season farming activities would be halted.
Farming has seen the couple educate their children, two have completed university education and the future looks bright.
So far, the only challenge in vegetables growing in Nakasongola has only been erratic weather, especially the heat waves that destroy the plant before harvesting. Their counsel to other farmers is to be transparent with their earnings and also be focused on what they want to achieve. “We are always transparent with our finances. We plan ahead what we want to do with the cash we have received,” Ssali says.