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How Basemera turned her small land into a money-spinner farm

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The innovative farmer, Sarah Basemera, inspects some of the mushrooms she grows on her farm. PHOTO/MICHAEL J SSALI

Ten years ago, Ms Sarah Basemera, the team lead at Raising Gabdho Foundation (RGF), decided to quit her well-paying job. It was not fulfilling regardless of the huge paycheck.

Together with friends, she decided to start the RGF which now she calls a fulfilling call. Ms Basemera explains that they are a renewable energy company but overtime they realised that people don’t worry about energy, but what they would cook then the energy worries come in later.

How she started 
Today RGF is offering tools and training on farming methods, constructing infrastructure for irrigation, storage, and value addition, and fostering the growth of regional networks and marketplaces.

“We have been around for three years. When we started, our dream was that we could grow a lot of vegetables and sell but we realised that our land was too small to have ample space where we could plant and have people buy,” she explains.

Ms Basemera further explains that: “We did the first planting where we had various species but when we tried to sell, we got an order to supply a supermarket daily but we realised we could not do daily supply so we had to change our model,” she says.

“We decided to settle with supplying the seed and setting up gardens; we tested different vegetables and that is what we are promoting in the community- we work with small scale or large-scale gardeners; supply them,” Ms Basemera adds.

She says that RGF is now into propagation and selling seedlings- they want to see practical gardening where an individual can have a small garden, do farming as a source of food and income as they supply the seed.

Situated on a 50 by 100 piece of land in Kiwafu B, Kampala, the plot features 15 different vegetable species, including five types of mint: lemon mint, citronella, pumpkins, pear grass, and four varieties of dodo, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, spring onions, and gyobyo also known as eshwiga in Runyankore.

“We do the cuttings and push into the market, we also train women and youth, refugees for the last four years, if you want to set up a garden at your home, we come in to support you,” Ms Basemera says.

Training farmers 
Through her organisation, 150 have graduated individuals over the years. This year they have a target of 270 individuals and groups; their trainees are assessed by the Directorate of Industrial Training (DIT).

“People we train always pass the DIT exams and go on to get jobs. The DIT tests cover topics like propagation, seedbed preparation, organic manure preparation, selling organic plants, and identifying target markets,” she explains.

Ms Sarah Basemera also grows herbs such as lemon grass. She adds value to the crop and earns more money. PHOTO/MICHEAL J SSALI

Learners are also instructed on how to employ plants such as aloe vera as a root stimulant for other plants, as well as organic pesticides.

She continues, “We have trained individuals who lack the funds to purchase pesticides or insecticides. We have taught them how to raise rabbits because, in six months, if you have two rabbits, you will have 10 rabbits.”

“The rabbit will provide urine, which you can mix with ash and red chili and use to spray your crops; if you begin raising the rabbits when the crops are still in the nursery bed, they will be able to provide you with pesticides when your crops require them,” she says.

Ms Basemera, who says she is an expert in “smart cities” and “food security for cities,” she notes that as more people move into the cities, the demand for food from the villages rises. 

“The other challenge is that we didn’t realise that we did not have soil in the city yet we have a lot of garbage which can be used to make soil; so we had to use the black soldier flies to help break down the garbage and convert it into soil,” she says.

One would ask, how do they get the people, Ms Basemera says they work with Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) in all the five divisions; the authority has a list of all registered self-help groups.

She says that getting people trained is a bit difficult hence they have to look for them, cook and give them the foods to test in order to appreciate that organic food is good.

“We discovered mushrooms are an alternative to meat; you can cook your entire meal with just briquettes of Shs2000. Additionally, one can grow mushrooms in their homes as long as they have a few inches of space,” she explains.

A crop like mushrooms according to Ms Basemera can grow on small pieces of space so long as they are dark and clean; additionally, there is ready market for the crop.

Value addition
There are instances when farmers have an abundance of mushrooms or a shortage of market mushrooms, in which case preservation and value addition are necessary.

Farmer Sarah Basemera inspects some of the mushrooms she grows on her farm. PHOTO.MICHAEL J SSALI

Ms Basemera says they are currently using a solar dryer to dry mushrooms then properly store it but also they are drying and adding value to rosemary which is occasionally tinned; since they are also into seed production the solar drier comes in handy.

“We discovered that although women are capable of growing mushrooms, they are purchasing and reselling them. Our goal is for them to earn a little extra money by cultivating their own,” she explains.

By the end of the day, the logistics involved in training in value addition are high, one would wonder how RGF is able to sustain this.

“We assist the wealthy in evaluating the soil, establishing the gardens, making sure they have access to seeds and manure, and the revenue we receive from these endeavours is utilised to support three individuals who aspire but lack the means to receive training,” Ms Basemera explains.

She adds: “We receive donations from organisations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has been helping us.”  

According to Ms Basemera, they annually enter into memorandums of understanding with a variety of organisations and people to help them know the number they would deal with; this year, they aim to sign 25.

In order to help women sell their vegetables and mushrooms, RGF is collaborating with businesses and hotels and establishments that are open to purchasing from organisations. She says this method establishes connections, monitors progress, and guarantees food security.

Leaving a job
Ms Basemera was working with Kobil Uganda now known as Rubis as the head of retails in 2014. She is a graduate of Business Entrepreneurship at Makerere University Business School (Mubs) She thought there would be an energy crisis, so her first stop was in the renewable energy industry. However, as she chatted with individuals, particularly the poor, she discovered that there was hunger.

“We started looking for ways to intervene in food security because it became embarrassing to tell someone to be careful with how they cook their meals when the same person did not have supper-people didn’t have food in the first place,” she says.

Even while everything appears to be shiny, Ms Basemera notes that one challenge is that Uganda lacks role models and few people who can attest to the efficacy of urban farming; in other words, not much study has been done on urban farming.

Farmer Sarah Basemera feeds black soldier flies.

Another issue is that people are not accustomed to using urban areas as food baskets. For example, Ms Basemera is telling people that they can grow 40 percent of the food for their home in their backyard. However, this is not a concept that most people are familiar with.

“At the community level, people are poor and struggling with loans—when they start small businesses, they don’t reinvest but it’s all about loan repayments,” she says, adding “People are not willing to give their compounds for urban farming.”

According to Ms Basemera, they are currently considering ways to provide financial investments to help those in need of small loans and financial literacy.

“People in urban areas are too busy; even though they would like to attend skill-building programmes, they don’t have two or three hours to spare,” Ms Basemera adds.

“Young people are the most unemployed, but they don’t think agriculture is the way to go. At the end of the day, we lack young people to work with; they just like to spend their time on Instagram,” she observes. 

She went on, “We are now encouraging parents to bring their kids to these training sessions. We teach financial literacy in addition to gardening, so this is something they can do for a living in the future.”


Ms Sarah Basemera says that RGF is now into propagation and selling seedlings- they want to see practical gardening where an individual can have a small garden, do farming as a source of food and income as they supply the seed.