Demand for fresh fruits and vegetables has shot up during the Covid-19 pandemic. As demand soars, so have the prices.
Prof Diana Nambatya, a stickler to fresh fruits and vegetables says that these used to take a large chunk of family income until she recently started growing her own.
“We used to spend a lot of money on fruits and vegetables . We had to look for ways of cutting costs which had shot over the roof,” she says.
In 2010, she started growing fruits and vegetables in any space she could find in her compound. With time, the yields were so high that her family could not consume them all. So she started selling to the neighbours.
“We decided that every space available would be turned into a garden. Our land is just a half-an-acre with our home. But now it is fully occupied and we are practising agroecology farming,” she says.
Rise of agroecology farming
Currently, Prof Nambatya boasts of a full system of agroecology farming; from her cows, she gets milk and cow dung. The cow dung is turned into biogas which is used for lighting and cooking. Later, the cow dung is turned into liquid fertiliser and manure.
“While the crops are in the garden, I will be earning from agrotourism, each person that visits my farm pays Shs50,000. I don’t have to look for customers but they come here,” she says.
Prof Nambatya illustrates, “I target 50 women everyday and if each bought vegetables worth Shs10,000 daily that is Shs500,000 per day.”
Prof Nambatya says, “What we grow in our small backyard is what we sell. We serve at least 50 customers daily and we also use social media to market our produce.”
“I encourage the youth that immediately you start an agroecology business, start looking for the market, don’t wait for the products to be ready, then start looking for market. Money comes to those who are organised,” she says.
Mr Richard Mugisha, the country project manager, Youth in Agroecology and Business Learning Track Africa (YALTA), says the money in agroecology is how you integrate the principles of agroecology; how you reduce and cut costs on the farm without going to buy synthetic fertilisers but make your own fertiliser.
“When you make the most of your own inputs, you cut the costs meaning more profits from a small area. When you have different enterprises on the market, there is a way they feed each other and that way you will not waste money to buy unnecessary inputs,” he says.
Agroecology involves farming without affecting nature, biodiversity, and environment but rather conserving it and enabling it to feed you.
How does it work?
According to Mr Mugisha, efficiency is when you have cows in the farm that give you cow dung that translates into biogas, cooking and lighting energy; instead of wasting a lot of resources on paying for electricity spend on a cow that will give milk, meat, skin and energy that’s how agro principles work together.
“We are exposing the youth to business modules that are agroecological so that they appreciate that they can make money from small pieces of land while using best farming practices,” he says.
Last week, PELUM Uganda organised a national Youth in Agroecology Caravan 2021 to introduce youth to the principles of agroecology, practical skills and agroecological business development.
They brought together 40 female and male youth from all parts of the country aged between 18-35 from rural and urban, start-ups and progressive entrepreneurs in the agri-food sector especially those involved in production, value addition, agro-input supply and agro-processing.
Mr Mugisha says Uganda’s economy relies heavily on the agricultural sector which employs about 65 per cent of the working population, of which 63 per cent are youth.
He adds that most of these youth reside in rural areas where agriculture is the major economic activity. The youth make up the largest percentage of Uganda’s population.
“Over 92 per cent of the youth in employment are poor and they represent some of the biggest cohorts when it comes to extreme poverty,” he says.
Mr Mugisha adds, “Population growth, increased pressure on natural resources including soils and water, the loss of biodiversity, and the uncertainties associated with climate change.”
He adds, “Although agroecology is increasingly regarded as a realistic pathway towards sustainable food systems, the involvement of youth as agripreneurs, practitioners and experts in this field is lacking.”
Youth in Agroecology and Business Learning Track Africa is an initiative aimed to support about 6,000 young agripreneurs to apply agroecological principles and co-create networks around them, in view of contributing to sustainabile food systems and youth employment.
The challenge is youth lack land and capital. But with exposure, they will appreciate that you can have a small piece of land and still be able to produce a lot.
“Agroecology has also an element of agrotourism which is well paying. There is no standard size to begin with. We have seen those practicing in their backyard and they are making money, book keeping is key in every business.”
Mr Robert Sabimana, the head of Natural resource and climate smart agriculture at Excel Hort Consult and agribusiness incubation hub, says they will be able to transform all waste into resources then they should be able to get all the money they want.
“The waste can be transformed into compost manure or liquid fertilisers, if they can also harness resources like enzymes production in mushroom growing that yields; money is got when you minimise costs and grow more from a small piece of land,” he says.
He adds, “Just like Nambatya, in compound crops like passion fruits can be grown which is high yielding, it can be planted along the veranda because it’s a vine, you can do grapes, plant tree tomatoes, five of them fetches more money,” he says.
Dr Gudula Naiga Barasa, the managing director at Gudie Leisure Farm, says the youth should understand the value chain in any enterprise they venture into.
She illustrates that if one realises that they would make more money at the raw material stage or after value addition, that is what they should go for.
“For us in white meat, vendors have higher income compared to the ones doing production. At production, we earn Shs2,000 per bird but a vendor would earn Shs7,000 in less time; a chicken bought at Shs12,000 can fetch Shs20,000,” she says.
Dr Barasa also advises youth to structure the market. In other words, they should be able to tell where the market is even before production.
“In white meat, cold chain is very important. If the chicken has reached the right size, you must slaughter because if the chicken is still around it will be eating into your profits; a lot of analysis is needed,” she says.