What you need to know:
- They plant a sucker (pineapple seedling) two feet away from another in a single line. The lines are in pairs and between each pair of lines there is a distance of about three feet. If the pineapple garden is located on a slope the space between the pairs of lines is dug up to form a gulley that traps rain water.
About three years ago Ibra Kisekka of Kayijja Village in Buwunga Sub-county, Masaka District, started growing pineapples at the nearby Kabagabo Village on a plot of about one and half acres.
“By that time we did not have many pineapple farmers in the area and it was a challenge to attract big buyers such as those from Kampala or elsewhere since they were not sure they would get enough pineapples from just one farmer or two to fill up their trucks,” he tells Seeds of Gold.
Pineapple farming idea
Kisekka, who is also a poultry farmer and coffee grower, therefore, came up with the idea of looking around for fellow farmers and persuading them to take up pineapple farming as an alternative economic activity.
A number of them from his village and other villages in the neighbourhood agreed with him and began to plant pineapples too.
“After a few months we agreed to form a registered farmers’ group of 30 members and today we are a fully-fledged group with an elected leadership known as Kayijja Produce Group,” he said.
They have a written constitution under which they elect their leaders every two years. He was elected chairman and, as he told Seeds of Gold, fresh elections are expected next month. 18 of the members are women.
Kisekka went on to reveal that they have greatly benefitted from working as a group. “Although we are different farmers, each one owning their own garden, we are joined by many factors,” he said.
They invite technical people once in a while to teach them about good farming practices and they visit each other to learn from one another and also to physically work on each other’s farms as a way of reducing labour costs.
An international NGO, East Africa Skills for Small Farmers (ESSAF), which also works in Uganda has given the group some training in organic farming and they now produce organically grown pineapples.
“Pineapples are not so much attacked by pests but sometimes there are tiny insects that invade the suckers usually around the time of planting,” Kisekka explains. “To kill those, the farmer is advised to plunge the sucker into hot water for about a minute.” They have also been taught the best spacing for pineapples.
They plant a sucker (pineapple seedling) two feet away from another in a single line. The lines are in pairs and between each pair of lines there is a distance of about three feet. If the pineapple garden is located on a slope the space between the pairs of lines is dug up to form a gulley that traps rain water. It is also the area into which natural fertilisers such as cow dung and chicken droppings are deposited. That space is also used by the farmer to stand in during weeding and farm inspection.
Vice chairperson, Sylvia Nakayima, says that this kind of spacing has resulted in better yields. “Some farmers plant anyhow, putting the suckers too close to each other which results in small fruits sold at very low prices. Yet with wider spacing and good application of fertilisers, the fruits are big and the prices offered for them are quite high,” she says.
Pineapples take 18 months between planting and harvesting. In an acre a farmer may plant as many as 20,000 suckers with good spacing. Assuming that each sucker produces one pineapple and it is sold at Shs1,000 the farmer may earn Shs20m. But we have to remember that some suckers may bear more than one pineapple. Suckers are also sold as planting materials to intending farmers at between Shs300 and Shs500.
Upon registering their group the farmers agreed to hire some land at Kabagabo where they made a demonstration garden for all of them to learn better farming practices.
That is the garden where they invite agricultural services extension officers and other experts to get some farming lessons.
Each of the members has an obligation to follow the guidelines of production as agreed upon by the entire group. One of the reasons they visit each other is to find out if they are all growing their crop organically, by using organic manure such as cow dung or poultry droppings.
They market their pineapples as a group and therefore the fruits must look the same and taste the same. One of the regulations in their constitution forbids members from planting pineapples in wetlands. Kisekka explains that besides the practice being bad for natural environment protection, pineapples grown in swamps lose their sweet taste.
“Sometimes we all team up and go to a member’s farm and help them with work, like when they are planting pineapples,” says Nakayima. “For the time being we do not sell the suckers, including those from our demonstration garden. Instead, we use them to enlarge our gardens.”
They also save their money as a group with the view to borrow. The members of the group also meet regularly to discuss ways of improving their household incomes. Kisekka disclosed that the group is now looking forward to getting buyers from Kampala and elsewhere since most of the members are beginning to harvest their first crop. For the time being the farmers who have begun harvesting collect their produce together and Kisekka sends it to Kampala where it is sold.
They however have a challenge marketing their product. “Our pineapples are not grown in wetlands and therefore they are a lot sweeter than those produced by other farmers whose gardens are located in wetlands,” says Kisekka. “Secondly our pineapples are organically grown and we feel we should get better prices. But the buyers out there don’t seem to see the difference and continue to buy our pineapples at the same price rates as offered to the rest of the farmers.”