Former teachers’ story of successful urban farming

Ritah Nakitto of Banadda Smart Farm demonstrates how to grow the climbing tomato in a sack of soil. Below, she shows  to POWESA Agribusiness Show goers in Masaka how to handle grafted tomato seedlings. Photos/Michael J Ssali

What you need to know:

  • At Banadda Smart Farm which is their home, they planted 16 banana stems and now they keep harvesting bananas every now and again for their eating because of the good agronomic practices they apply.
  • Their farm, measuring 156 feet by 89 feet, today easily passes as one of the most successful stories of urban farming in the country.

Two professional teachers, Ritah Nakitto and her husband Benjamin Ssentongo Banadda, took a decision to quit teaching about ten years ago and to set up Banadda Smart Farm at Gangu in Busaabala, Kampala. 
Their farm, measuring 156 feet by 89 feet, today easily passes as one of the most successful stories of urban farming in the country. 
Nakitto used to teach History and CRE in one of the St Lawrence Secondary Schools (Creamland) while Ssentongo was teaching History and Luganda at Wanyange Girls School. 

“We both had a strong passion for farming, and that is why we have always been keen readers of Seeds of Gold and other farming publications,” says Ssentongo. “In fact yesterday (November 12) I was at the Seeds of Gold’s Farm Clinic at Kajjansi, where I bought a book on farming,” he says.
Nakitto revealed that many of the farming technologies practiced on their farm have been acquired by searching the internet and reading a large variety of publications. “We are not trained agriculturists but we have been really interested in farming,” she told Seeds of Gold. 

They took some of their early training lessons in rearing local chickens at the farm of Elias Kasumba of Nabbingo in Kampala. They now rear and breed local chicken under the cage system. They also rear and breed rabbits at their farm under the cage system amidst many other farming enterprises done on their small piece of land.

Regenerative agriculture
They carry out what they refer to as regenerative agriculture. “We are out to prove that we cannot stop farming because the soil is depleted,” says Nakitto. “If it is depleted then we have the obligation to make it fertile and productive again because we are the ones who keep harvesting crops grown on it. People will never stop eating and therefore producing food must be a continuous process.  We cannot always take away crops without giving back something to the soil. That is why we sell earthworms to fellow small holder farmers for them to facilitate soil rejuvenation wherever they grow crops. And it is partly the reason we keep livestock such as rabbits and chicken to get organic manure to fertilise the soil,” she says.

Breeding worms 
She revealed that one way of rejuvenating the soil is to encourage the breeding of earthworms in their garden. As she says it is a trick they learned from Dr Emma Naluyima who is an expert in organic farming. “We breed and sell the worms to many upcoming urban farmers who regularly come to us for advice,” says Nakitto. They often hold training sessions for youths and other interested persons in urban farming.

The two believe that urban farming, which is described as the practice of growing crops and rearing livestock in small spaces in towns or cities, can itself be a form of profitable employment. “What many urban dwellers should consider is how much they spend on transport to and from their places of work,” she explains. “If it is a shop they are running at their place of work, how much is the rent? They should also think of the cost of the food items on which they spend and compare it with how much they would save if they stayed at home and grew their own food and possibly even sold the excess to the neighbours,” says Nakitto.

Model farm 
At Banadda Smart Farm which is their home, they planted 16 banana stems and now they keep harvesting bananas every now and again for their eating because of the good agronomic practices they apply. “We even have a heavy bunch of bananas reserved for Christmas,” Rita reveals. They will also have some chicken and rabbit meat. They normally sell rabbits and local chicken to fellow residents especially in the festive seasons. They also sell seed stock to fellow farmers in the neighborhood who wish to start rearing rabbits and local chicken.

They grow climbing tomatoes known as Martina Indeterminate Tomato on soil packed in sacks and Ssentongo is quick to explain why they grow climbing tomatoes. “We prefer them because they grow going upwards and never spread sideways since we are economising space. We also prepare grafted tomato seedlings for sale. In the beginning we just sold plain tomato seedlings but we realised they were attacked by blight which caused wilting. So we resorted to grafted tomato seedlings that are less prone to wilting,” Ssentongo says. Grafting tomatoes is a skill they obtained from Google searching. They have to be grown in sacks to reduce the risk of wilting. “Inside one sack the roots have no chance of meeting the roots of a diseased tomato,” Nakitto explains.

They purchase the root stock from Holland Greentech in Kampala and graft them, put them in peat moss soil purchased from shops, before packing them in nursery treys. People come and purchase them mostly in small numbers of like five or ten seedlings to go and grow on the verandas of their residences or in the back yards. They also sell seedlings of green pepper, onions, broccoli, sukuma-wiki and a whole range of other vegetables.  

A major reason why their business is profitable is that they sell their products throughout the year since they never worry about rain shortage. “We have water all the time,” she say. “In the beginning we fully depended on National Water and Sewage but the monthly bills became an issue. So we drilled our own water from underground. So we have all the water we need to keep our crops green always and to keep the rabbits and chicken well watered.” They have the advantage of selling vegetables when most farmers out there have no stock due to drought challenges.

As a result of their labour as farmers the two former teachers now live in their own house, they have a car and send their children to some of the best schools in the country. “We have six children and three of them are in school,” Nakitto notes. “One attends St Mark College Namagoma where we pay about one million shillings per term, another one is at Sacred Heart Boarding Primary School Kyamusansala, where we pay ninety four hundred thousand shillings per term and the other is at Kyengera Parents Mugogo, one of the Sir Apollo Kaggwa Schools. The remaining three are still too young for formal school but one of them is in top class in the day care centre around here.”