Growing ginger is hard work but very profitable

Above: Mutebi uproots ginger from his garden. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

He always had a passion for farming but had no land. But a kind gesture from a friend put him on the path to realise his dream. Joseph Mutebi told Pauline Bangirana the story.

My name is Joseph Mutebi, District Internal Security Officer, of Butambala District, and also a ginger farmer there.
I started growing ginger in 2009 when a friend let me use part of his land. The planting was done on a small scale, about a quarter an acre of land. The first harvest filled five sacks, each weighing 120kgs. In total, that was about 600kgs. However, I did not sell but used it as planting material.

My own
It was in the following year, 2010, that I started selling what I harvested. The advantage with ginger is, if looked after well, one can have even more yields.
With time I acquired my own land, three acres, from the money saved from my ginger sales. I do not employ labour full time but hire the services of people to dig and level the land prior to planting. Also, they come in to sort the ginger, break into smaller bits, and dry it as they prepare to plant it.
After that, they cover it while on the ground or leave it in sacks for about two weeks until the buds sprout.

Two steps
With the hired help, some dig the holes while others plant the ginger. After this, I apply coffee husks as manure. However, cow dung is usually better but in Butambala, the husks are more available.
I hire 10 labourers although I work with them to ensure that everything is done well. in addition, it costs me about Shs180,000 to use a tractor because it is efficient. The tractor digs deeper than a human does.
I spend Shs400,000 to Shs600,000 on the workers but the challenge is the workers take a longer time on their tasks.
Growing ginger requires a lot of work especially when it is time for weeding (at this stage, the ginger is around a feet tall), so we have to be careful not to harm the ginger roots.
The weeding occurs in two steps. The first involves uprooting weeds manually, and the second, using small hoes (This is because the big hoes might cut the ginger in the ground).

Boost and enhance
It is tiresome but I endeavour to keep the pests at bay because it is delicate in the first three months and it is crucial to get rid of weeds and any pests because these three months determine whether the ginger will thrive or not.
After weeding, I spray the ginger because it is usually attacked by a fungus, which turns the leaves yellow.
Occasionally, fertilisers are used to boost the soil and enhance plant growth. After six months, it is ready to harvest. From the three acres, the yield is about 100 sacks that weigh 120kgs each, which are then sold. I earn profit; from the 100 bags, I earn an extra Shs 10,000 which comes to Shs1m.
The price is however determined by the prevailing demand and the season. I sell my ginger to traders and customers from Mwanza in Tanzania, Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, and Mutukula at Uganda-Tanzania border, Sudan and DR Congo.
With proceeds from the ginger business I have bought a house, sent my children to school and invested in chicken broilers. I also have two and a half acres on which I grow maize to use as chicken feed. In the near future, I plan to start a business that makes products out of ginger like sweets, biscuits and even drinks.
However, nothing comes on a silver platter because I have encountered some challenges.Labour can be expensive yet inefficient, which slows the work down.
The chemicals for pest control are also costly, for instance 10kgs cost Shs110,000 yet one needs more than that for it to be effective. Similarly, coffee husks range from Shs7,500 but when there is scarcity, a sack will cost Shs10,000.
Price changes affect us. A case in point is last year when the prices were low. A sack was as low as Shs50,000. This was a loss to us the farmers.

Assist farmers
The lack of irrigation equipment is making it hard to grow ginger all throughout the season because with insufficient water (rain), it only grows seasonally when the rain is heavy.
This is further challenged by the insufficient research and knowledge on pests and diseases that affect the crop.
We have formed an association to assist farmers involved in ginger farming especially at the sub-county level, where tractors are even hired although not all farmers can access the use of tractors on their farms.
However, despite the challenges I will continue to grow ginger.

Processing ginger

In 2013, Butambala Ginger Processor and Factory was launched and it was certified by Uganda National Bereau of Standards. It operates from Kyabadaza, Butambala.
The factory processes ginger and makes powdered ginger, natural with no additives.
The ginger is packed in 50 and 100 gram packets. The fact that ginger prices fluctuate poses a challenge of pricing the processed ginger.
It supplies processed ginger to various supermarkets around the country; in Kampala, Mukono, Masaka and Mbale.
The supply is determined by the demand although it usually supplies 20 dozens of 50 grams after two weeks at Shs3,000 per unit.

Pointers >Some facts on growing ginger

Ginger plants require mildly acidic soils for healthy growth and rhizome production. Ensure that soil pH is 5.5 to 6.5. If it is too high or too low, it will interfere with ginger growth. Lower the soil pH by applying composted manure, or increase the pH with calcium carbonate to achieve optimal pH.
Good clean soil is also important for healthy ginger. Make sure that the soil is free from pests or fungus and parasites, such as root knot nematodes.

Ginger prefers rich, fertile soil. Soil rich in organic matter provides ginger with the nutrients it needs to produce flavourful, healthy rhizomes, without the need for additional fertilisers and amendments.
If your soil is lacking in organic matter, stick to a regular fertilisation schedule for your ginger plant.
Some ginger plants suffer tip rot, in which the tip of the rhizome begins to decay. This indicates a lack of calcium in the soil; therefore, a calcium amendment may be necessary.
When adding fertilisers and supplements in areas of high rainfall, remember that rainwater pulls and leaches applications from the soil; therefore, try not to fertilise ginger plants directly before a rainstorm.

Moist, well-draining soil is optimal for ginger plants. It is important that the soil mixture hold moisture; however, it is important that ginger plants not be exposed to overly saturated or waterlogged soil.
The best soils for draining and moisture retention include sandy or loamy mixtures.
Create a soil mixture using one part sand and one part compost for optimal drainage, as well as the proper amount of organic matter for fertilisation.
Because ginger develops beneath the soil, adequate soil coverage is also required to protect the rhizome from the elements above ground. Guard against soil erosion, due to wind and rainfall, by providing a sheltered area for your ginger plant to grow.

Ginger grows well in containers, raised beds or in the ground. Always mulch around ginger plants grown directly in the ground.
Mulch helps the soil retain moisture, while also adding organic matter. To ensure healthy rhizomes, reduce water to allow the soil to dry slightly at the time of production. Thereafter, ensure that the soil remains moist.