Justina Kyalisiima walks in her vegetable garden as she touches the crop leaves to check how they are doing.
“They are ready for harvest. When my customers come tomorrow morning, they will have something to go and sell to the market,” says Kyalisiima as she keenly looks at the vegetables.
Kyalisiima is a traditional vegetable farmer, who grows a variety of the crops on about an acre of land that she inherited from her father.
The crops include tomatoes, cabbage, green pepper and egg plants. “I went into farming accidentally, but I am determined to do this for the rest of my life,” says the 30-year-old Senior One dropout.
The young farmer recounts that after dropping out of school, she planted the indigenous vegetables for family use.
Her harvest attracted neighbours, who asked if she could sell them. Kyalisiima began selling the vegetables making more than Shs50,000 a day. This pushed her into farming.
“The vegetables are cheaper to grow because they are disease-resistant. Then they adapt to environment easily and have a longer period of harvesting. Besides that, they improve the soil fertility.”
On the acre farm, Kyalisiima has demarcated the land into four parts, which host different kinds of vegetables.
“I mixed the soil with poultry manure, which I got from a nearby farm. The rate was five tonnes an acre,” she says.
Thereafter, she mixed the seeds with soil at a rate of 1:10 and dug holes at a spacing of 30cm.
She then planted and after two weeks, she thinned the vegetables to remain with the best.
Since she started planting the vegetables, Kyalisiima says she has never thought of growing any other crop because of the money she gets.
“From the sale of the vegetables, I have been able to help my parents pay school fees for my younger siblings and save some money for expansion of the farm.”
Kyalisiima supplies her vegetables to eateries in Hoima City and village markets. However, most of it is bought by women who come to the farm every morning to buy and sell to residents. She says the business that is barely two years old has seen her earn about Shs500,000 per month.
Can grow anywhere
“When I started growing vegetables, I had only Shs20,000, which I used to buy seedlings, a packet each for the varieties,” she says.
“The vegetables can grow anywhere and some of them have grown where I did not plant them, that’s why they are called bush plants.” The farmer has improved her skills by attending lessons conducted by East West International and Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT. Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT collaborates with East West International to encourage farming families in Uganda to grow a wider range of vegetables.
When the agronomists came knocking at Kyalisiima’s door, the mother of three opened and learned lessons. Today she is a model farmer encouraging others in Kasanina Village, Kyabigambire Sub-County in Hoima District.
“When I started, I was broadcasting the seeds but they did not grow well. I learned the importance of planting the crops in an organised manner and using manure. I now know which pesticides to use when they are attacked. Agronomists led by Tobbias Recha from Bioversity have played a great role in my garden.”
Kyalisiima hopes to farm the vegetables on large-scale so that she can supply to the markets and supermarkets in Hoima.
“I’m very happy that the supermarkets are into the business of selling traditional vegetables. I’m planning to produce more so that I get enough supply for the outlets,” says Kyalisiima.
She uses a variety of pesticides depending on the threats. The common pests, however, are aphids, beetles, whiteflies, leaf miners, mites, wireworms and nematodes.
Alex Turyahumura, and agronomist with East West International, says traditional vegetables have high nutritional and medicinal values.
“They help in managing and preventing high blood pressure, diabetes, chest pains and stomachache due to the acids they have. They are good for both adults and children,” says Turyahumura who has been guiding farmers in Hoima District on the best practices of vegetable growing.
The plants are also beneficial in the treatment of dropsy, which is the swelling of soft tissues.
Vegetable farmers can grow and achieve three times more yield than the current size to harvest a total of at least 16 tonnes per acre in three months thanks to best agronomical practices that can enable the producers to grow the crop for high-end hotels and markets.
According to Elizabeth Kabakoyo, agronomist at East West International most green pepper fruits currently weigh from 50g to 100g and though the fruits look like fragile, they can tolerate adverse climate to give a better yield.
This can be achieved by following some of the best agronomical practices.
Nursery bed preparation
“A nursery bed for germination must be about one metre in width, but the length is unlimited. Soil should be raised and tilt into fine particles to increase chances of germination,” says Kabakoyo.
Soil in a one metre by 10 metres nursery bed should have at least 50 kilogrammes of well decomposed manure.
Drills of about three centimetres are made before covering and irrigating then covering with mulch.
The mulch should be removed before the seedlings emerge.
Seedlings are transplanted after a month, when they are pencil-thick at a spacing of 60cm by 90cm.
A tea spoonful of double ammonium phosphate fertiliser and a handful of farmyard manure are added to the 10cm deep transplantation hole.
“Transplanting at the onset of rains is appropriate for farmers who do not have access to water for irrigation. Otherwise watering is necessary for high productivity,” says the agronomist.
At least 4,500 seedlings are required for one acre.
Afterwards the seedlings have to be sprayed with a pesticide such as Mancozeb Fungicide to kill cutworms, mites, whiteflies and other insects than can cut or mine the juice from the tender crops.
“The pesticides should be applied after 14 days, although at times infestation can determine the frequency,” says Joshua Ahumuza a research assistant at East West International.
Mulching is key in cutting costs of irrigation. It retains the moisture in the soil while smothering weeds. Minimum tillage because of the mulch ensures that soil is least disturbed and the microbes inside work ‘peacefully’ to convert organic matter into ready nutrients for use.
Top-dress with calcium ammonium phosphate (CAN) after one month.
As the plants start flowering a bee friendly insecticide must be applied; bees are important in pollination of the eggplants. The insecticide must kill insects that drill holes into the fruits.
Topaz should be sprayed on the crops to cushion them against cold weather.
Among the tomato pests the farmer grapples with are white flies, which attack the leaves, interfering with photosynthesis.
Tobbias Recha a research fellow at Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, says white flies attack beans, onions and tomatoes, among other crops.
“Most white flies have gained resistance to the common pesticides though there are chemicals in the market which eliminate them,” says Recha who is also a plant breeder.
After about 75 days, Kyalisiima’s first harvest is ready. The vegetable can be sold after 70 days. The market will dictate the size to be harvested.