When Frank Wepukulu, 69, retired from the police force in 2000, he did not know that he would become successful as a farmer growing cassava as cash crop.
“I zeroed in on cassava because it’s a relatively cheap crop to grow and maintain but I had little faith on its profitability,” he recalls with a smile perhaps wondering how wrong he was.
Wepukulu, a resident of Butsungola village, Bukhulo Sub-county in Sironko District, started with an acre. Now, he owns more than seven acres of cassava.
“I harvest once a year and with each harvest, I earn more than Shs7.5m, which is enough to take care of my family’s needs and wants,” he says.
Each bag of cassava goes for Shs55,000-Shs60,000.
The idea of growing cassava as cash crop was introduced to him by Patrick Masolo, who was then an agricultural extensional officer for Sironko District.
“He was my friend. He told me that it was beneficial to engage in commercial agriculture if I was to live a better life during retirement,” he says.
The retired assistant inspector of police says he bought the idea and proceeded to Serere District, where his friend got for him cassava cuttings, which he planted on one acre.
“I was given freely and I planted according to the standards, which includes spacing in rows—5 feet by 5 feet, which gives the crop enough space to grow, well,” he says.
Family members helped him to tend the crops but they did not understand why he always stressed that it was not for home consumption.
“They did not believe this until it was ready for harvest. I sold all the cassava in the garden to the traders, much to the surprise of my family members,” he explains.
“Now they have got used to the fact that it’s not for home consumption.”
From the first harvest in 2001, he earned Shs800,000 from the one acre he had planted.
In order to grow cassava, the retired police officer says the farmers need to practice crop rotation.
“I have partitioned the land by plots. For example, when I plant cassava this year, the following year, I plant maize in the plot to allow the soil to regain fertility and also it controls pests and insects,” he says.
Wepukulu adds that it is even recommended when growing cassava to practice intercropping, which himself practices.
“In my cassava garden, I have beans as well,” he points out.
On the application of fertilisers in the garden, he says it is necessary but he does not do it.
He asserts that it is because the soil is fertile enough and suitable for cassava growing since it is well drained and has the other necessary attributes.
It is necessary also that farmers plant high yielding varieties, prepare the garden well, space it well, carry out constant weeding and use one cutting per hole not three.
He adds that that cassava could be an idea crop to improve food security for millions of people in the country if farmers are trained on how to grow it for commercial purposes.
The market is available, both within and outside the country. “Nowadays, whenever I harvest, I sell more to traders who export it to neigbouring countries like South Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya, at a good price,” he says.
Morever, the market is not volatile like the other crops because of its constant demand.
With the proceeds, Wepukulu has managed to buy a grinding mill, take care of family needs and start other faming enterprises such as keeping cattle and growing bananas.
The biggest issue is the cassava mosaic disease but he contends that it can be controlled.
His other challenge is lack of enough land to carry on with crop rotation.
On value addition, Wepukulu thinks that a factory for industrial starch would open opportunities for cassava growers since the crop is a source of the raw material.
“This area is known for cassava, so government should think about it,” he says.
The government should supply the necessary equipment and trainings at sub-county level to enable and promote commercial farming.
“Farmers should know how to grow cassava as cash crop,” he says.
Wepukulu he plans to expand the area for his cassava growing to 15 acres in future. In addtion to that, he also intends to venture into fruit farming.
Importance of cassava. Cassava is an important staple crop for many people especially in West Nile, northern and eastern Uganda, and also widely grown as a famine reserve crop. It has high yielding capability, easy to grow and thrives even in marginal areas. Cassava is a good source of alcohol and industrial starch.
Soil: Cassava can be grown in a wide range of soil but best on deep, free draining soils with reasonable fertility levels. Shallow soils, which may restrict tuber expansion, should be avoided.
Rainfall and altitude: Cassava is highly drought resistant and grown where rainfall is low and unreliable. It grows best in low to medium altitudes. It is low yielding at altitudes beyond 1,500m a.s.l.
Many popular varieties have been wiped out by Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and other recent ones have also become vulnerable to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). New varieties such as NASE series with resistance/tolerance to CMD and CBSD have been released and others are being developed. Cassava is propagated vegetatively using stem cuttings.
Land preparation: The seedbed requires deep cultivation to a depth of 25 cm. A rough seedbed is preferred. Ridges or mounds are used in other areas and it encourages tuber development.
Planting materials: Planting is done by use of cuttings. These are parts of the stem, which should be from a mature plant, especially the middle part. They should be 30-45 cm long and 2.5-4 mm thick with buds above the leaf scar
Planting method and spacing: Cuttings may be buried in a horizontal position 7.5-10 cm deep or buried half way into the soil. In pure stands (without intercropping), a spacing of 1.5 m x 0.9 m is recommended.
When intercropped, interplant with a cover crop of beans or groundnuts at a spacing of 50cm x 20cm. This combination gives maximum yields of both cassava and bean or groundnuts.
Weeding: Keep the crop weeded in the early first 3 months.Intercropping also helps to suppress weeds.