Urban farming: Nalunga shares approach and experiences

Nalunga scouts for parasites on her cherry tomato plants in her backyard garden.  Photo / George Katongole

What you need to know:

  • The 27-year-old cosmetologist is an urban farmer using fragmented pieces of land in Gayaza and Wakiso, for a backyard flock of poultry, a banana garden and vegetable gardens.

Victoria Nalunga is not your conventional farmer. She does not have to lose her make-up to go into gardening.

The 27-year-old cosmetologist is an urban farmer using fragmented pieces of land in Gayaza and Wakiso, for a backyard flock of poultry, a banana garden and vegetable gardens.

How she started

Nalunga, who calls herself a hustler, started farming to earn pocket money.

“My father [she keeps his family details private] kept allocating pieces of land to us where we would grow crops. When they were ready, he could give us some money to buy personal effects. He could use some of the money from the garden to pay school fees for us. It is from here that I picked interest and realised that farming can sustain a life. And today my perspective has widened as farming can make billionaires,” Nalunga, who was born in Kiwatule, Kampala, says.

Kiwatule had wider spaces where farming could be carried out in the 90s when she was born unlike today. She recalls the early days when she would be woken up as early as 5am to go to the garden.

“I could not wait to grow up and start doing my own things. Whenever holiday approached, we were worried of farming back home. I now realise farming is the in thing. There is nothing as good as seeing the fruits you planted as seed,” she says.

Her father mentored her in farming teaching her especially poultry skills.

The bulk of her diet comes from her yard while raking in profits from what was at first a passion.

“At first, it was just a crazy idea with friends wondering whether it would work,” Nalunga says of her humble beginnings.

After leaving Makerere University Business School in 2016, Nalunga rented six acres of land in Ziroobwe, Luweero District at Shs50,000 each excited to join the food supply market.

She grew seasonal fast-growing crops such as cabbages, maize, sweet potatoes, cassava, and tomatoes, among others. Her mother, Janet Nakiyingi gave her a helping hand. But it created unique challenges to her.

“It was very tiresome working on such huge chunks of land. Farming still appeared like a punishment. I had to think of a smarter way of farming,” Nalunga says.

Her initial motivation was to prove to her father, a retired civil servant who now lives in Mukono, that farming was not a punishment but found out the hard way that having produce is not enough. As a profit-minded farmer, she had to look for market.

“My father had told me all about production but he had not taken me to the market. We were always at home. Even when I began doing my own things, I got a challenge because I did not know where to look for the market,” she says.

Marketing

Nalunga’s turning point in farming was in 2017 when she took a lorry of cabbages to Nakasero Market from where she was conned of more than Shs3m. She decided from that point to create her own market.

“I was a new person and I did not know there are middlemen in markets and conmen. I waited for the money but did not see that man again. I cried for so long,” she says. She realised that she could not stop farming despite the hitch.

“People still need food whether you are conned or not. There are losses here and there. Some farmers lose all their crop to diseases and other disasters,” Nalunga explains how she picked herself up.

From her savings, she bought a small piece of land in Nabisugga-Gayaza in 2017.

She planted bananas before she cut down some of them to pave way for a backyard poultry project and vegetable growing.

“I was wasting a lot of fuel driving to Gayaza to pick three or four bunches that I could sell. It was wasteful,” Nalunga explains. She now owns pieces of land she uses for farming in Nalusugga-Kasangati, Namulonge, and Bulindo-Kira.

“One lesson I have learned along the way is to treat farming as a business not simply passion. Good practices of calculating profits and record keeping are vital to run a profitable venture,” she explains.

Takes advantage of social media

Using her social media accounts, where she identifies herself as an urban farmer, Nalunga contacted her contacts to supply them with fresh produce.

“But I could only grow some. As people placed their orders, I realised I had to run to the market to obtain the others,” Nalunga says.

This is the time she started what she calls Vicky’s Super Combos where she packages produce that would be needed by a client including bananas, onions, tomatoes, vegetables and the rest which she delivers at the doorstep.

During the Covid-19 period, supply chain issues persisted with many people finding going to markets stressful.

Nalunga filled the gaps in supply particularly for those unable find specific products.

“Most of my clients now are residing in apartments and find it hard to move to the markets. I now do the hard work of finding what they need and deliver it,” she says.

But she has three restaurants she supplies requirements on a weekly basis with most of the vegetables and chicken from her stock.

Nalunga still peddles produce in her car at events where she interacts with friends, at the car wash and on the roadside.

“I try reaching as many customers as possible. It still makes some of my friends uncomfortable asking how I deal with such crazy stuff yet I have a boyfriend. But to me it is about finding my place in the food market and being able to earn something decent,” Nalunga explains.

Thinking big

Urban farmers are creatively and urgently responding to the growing customer demand for fresh produce.

One of the essential requirements of an urban farm is to turn small spaces into productive areas.

This, according to experts depends so much on skill, experience and specific crop choices of the gardener to make urban spaces more productive.

Nalunga explains that as a result, growing demand may require more produce.

“This is why I am training myself in vertical farming. I need to start growing my crops going up. Secondly, I want to learn more about aquaponics because it looks more sustainable in such setting,” she says.

Nalunga says that the beauty with small gardens is that one does not have to spend a lot on pesticide, fertiliser and labour.

At her backyard garden in Ntinda, for instance, she uses rabbit urine as fertiliser and chicken droppings in her other gardens.

Although she employs some casual labourers, she does most of the work herself with the help of her mother.

“This means I am able to get more profit because the inputs do not cost me a lot,” she explains.

Her crops of choice are vegetables. She says that there is great demand for fresh vegetables.

“One just needs to know what vegetables are on high demand in their area. Basic market research can easily lead you to the answer,” she says.

She says this calls for a mindset change especially among the youth who have limited access to capital and land.

“I love farming, I just don’t like the old model in which it used to be practised. My fellow youth can find work in agriculture if they think smart,” Nalunga explains. As a beneficiary of the Uganda National Young Farmer’s Association (UNYFA) agribusiness tour in Germany in 2021, she has gained new insights.

She now wants to invest in dairy farming while helping young people in her community earn through crafts she makes.

“My plan is to expand into dairy farming with the same approach of maximising space. I will keep a few animals that can be supplementary to other ventures,” Nalunga says.

Marketing tips for urban farms

Direct farm sales are more convenient to build your customer base to people who know your production cycle.

Farmer markets: Nalunga tips farmers to seek markets where they can obtain a stall to display their products. «The rest of the produce can be sold from home,» she says.

Online: Although some experts tip farmers to build website for marketing purposes, Nalunga is planning to take her business to Jumia where she hopes to reach customers beyond Kampala. This she hopes can complement her social media presence. “You have to use people around you to move to the next level,” she says.

Restaurants: Nalunga tips prospective urban farmers to look around for nearby eateries they can supply produce.

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