Bongole Farm Experience Visit – Passion Fruit Farming

What an early start Saturday March 14, 2014 brought starting off at 8am, meeting a group of passion fruit farmers going to Bongole farm in Mpigi for an exposure visit. The visit was organized through Farmers Network Uganda (FNU), but I was only able to join the visit through a passion fruit Whatsapp group (power of social media), and the AgriBusiness Network Uganda, a social media driven association of farmers looking to better themselves.
 JB Wasswa, our host welcomed us, and talked about the advantages of passion fruit as a product:
  • Long shelf life for the fruits, up to 2 weeks from harvesting
  • Ready local market all year round which cannot be satisfied
  • Export potential for the fruits
  • Easier to manage than animals, which require continuous feeding through their lifetime

However the challenges that have to be looked out for:

  • Time commitment – for planning out the enterprise, execution from seedlings in the nursery, transplanting, looking after the vines (with spraying every 2 weeks), as well as monitoring the health of the farm against pests and diseases
  • Skills – need to minimize the amount of research that least to analysis paralysis, as there is no standard pracitce just general guildelines which vary based on the local conditions.
  •  Market – while the market is readily available, a farmer has to dedicate time to develop distribution channels, plus grow and establish a critical mass of customers. Recommended is start with family, friends, neighbors and workmates.
  • Water supply – requirement for the health of the vines and fruit
Passion Fruit Nursery

Passion Fruit Nursery

What followed was a visit to different parts of the farm. We started at the nursery with some unconventional wisdom:

  • A shade is not required as the seedlings are very resilient
  • There is no need to pot the plants as this increases the cost
  • The seedlings have to be transplanted with as little soil as possible to prevent transfer of diseases
  • The current seedlings had been in the nursery bed for 2 months, while waiting for the rains which are expected in the next 2-3 weeks, end of March.
Land prepared for passion fruits

Land prepared for passion fruits

From the nursery we moved to a new field that was being prepared for transplanting. Top tips:

  • Holes for vines are spaced 3m apart from each other
  • The holes are 2 feet wide and 1 foot deep. Planting seedlings much deeper that that leads to higher incidence of root rot
  • Manure is added to the holes and mixed with the soil to improve the soil texture and provide some additional nutrients.
  • In case additional artificial fertilizers such as NPK, are needed, they need to be placed in between the holes to enable the fertilizer to spread when it rains.
  • For starting with passion fruits, it is recommended that the initial size of the crop be limited to 2 acres.
  • In order to reduce the upfront costs of startup the poles can initially be placed about 10m apart as the initial support is only needed for the vines to grow to the trellis
Table Type trellis

Table Type trellis

Too many branches on a vine

Too many branches on a vine

From the nursery & newly opened land, we next visited existing passion fruit vines:

  • Regular spraying is paramount with a cocktail of fungicide, pesticide and folio fertilizer. When spraying vines and foilage all have to be sprayed
  • Pruning of foliage is important to reduce overcrowding and ensure existing branches get enough sunlight and space
  • There were separate thoughts on number of vine branches to leave on each plan – with 1 (Denis) and 2 (JB). The risk with leaving one vine is that when its infected with blight and has to be removed (as there is no cure), there is no replacement while with more than one (2-3) then its possible to have continued production from that vine. The principle however is avoid overcrowding to increase productivity whatever choice you make
  • The fruiting branches need to be spaced at about a foot apart to have good productivity
  • Water is very important for the health of the vines and fruits, any shortages will result in lower production and poor quality.

Once we completed visiting the vines, we collected to discuss farming as a business with the following food for thought:

  • Take time to research, and understand the farming venture you are trying to get into. Read, talk to practitioners of the venture, wander around while leveraging the scientific knowledge available.
  • Do not try to do everything, it is important to make a decision on what to pursue.
  • Make a business case for the farming venture, also include the cost of land (asset) in your computations
  • Rightsize your business ventures to match available financing, knowledge, labor, and constraints
  • You do not have to own the structures for production, you can lease land, rent structures however ensure that you have factored it into your business case
  • Start small – which is relative to the size of the venture, but which matches your financing
  • Market is important – you need to build your market and distribution
  • Monitor your progress, keep records to enable you to track progress based on initial estimates
  • Leverage potential synergies with the farming venture along with colleagues, neighbors, your networks to improve the business case e.g., having bees along with passion fruits, maize and other flowering crops
  • Engage scientific expertise but leverage your own learnings and experiences to guide what you do
  • Keep records, keep records, keep records …

The afternoon was crowned by talks from:

  • UAP & Jubilee Insurance Uganda on livestock and crop insurance products, both of which depend on the farmer’s experience and records to back up valuation
  • The Hive Group talking about the benefits of having bees on a farm especially for passion fruits that cannot self pollinate
  • Engsol talking about a manual flexi pump for irrigation and other water needs on the farm
  • Farmers Network Uganda talking about their organization and benefits from joining their organization

Special thanks to Stephen Wasswa and Kakungulu Safaris for the comfortable transportation to and from the venue

Freshly picked passion fruit ready to eat

Freshly picked passion fruit ready to eat

You do not need metal frames to hoist tanks

You do not need metal frames to hoist tanks

Line Trellis

Line Trellis

Table Trellis

Table Trellis

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4 thoughts on “Bongole Farm Experience Visit – Passion Fruit Farming

  1. Pingback: AgroTraining the new cash machine that is hurting Agriculture in Uganda | A Ugandan Farmer

  2. Pingback: AgroTraining the new cash machine that is hurting Agriculture in Uganda | A Ugandan Farmer

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