Mulching lusuku 

Some of the key challenges for a lusuku are weed manageent, maintaining the fertility of the soils plus dealing with droughts especially with the unpredictable rains currently being experienced around the country.

Mulching provides a natural and organic measure of combatting all the challenges above but with its own constraint of finding suitable plant material in appreciable quantities to provide an adequate layer. Our drive to focus on staying away from chemical fertilizers and herbicides/pesticides is a further driver for our push to mulching.

What we have done:

  1. Provided 3 feet separation from the banana stools to the mulch
  2. Addition of ash (from regular charcoal based cooking) in the space without mulch to control nematodes and other pests
  3. Cutting off the dried out leaves to provide additional plant material for the mulch

Just before the next rains in March 2017, we shall look to add cattle and goat dung for manure.

Spacing for mulch around stool

Spacing for mulch around stool

Mulch view 1

Mulch view 1

Mulch view 2

Mulch view 2

Mulch view 3

Mulch view 3

Mulch view 4

Mulch view 4

Banana Plantation (Lusuku) Plans

The November rains (musenene) are here, so it is time for us to put into action our plan to add a 1.3 acre plantation of bananas as part of our food security metric. After discussion with a J. B. Wasswa (@jbkwasswa ) we have narrowed on having local varieties which are:

– Mabidde for making banana juice and beer (landrace variety)
– Gonja
– Sukari Ndizi – sweet or apple bananas
– Bogoya (Gros Michel) which are larger and less sweet than the ndizi
– Nakitembe – the indigenous traditional Ganda cooking variety of the landrace class
– Kibuzi
– Mpologoma

The land is gently sloping, about 30% incline so will include terraces to stop the downward flow of water, and which shall also be used as manure stores. For manure, we are targeting to use cow dung that has been through a biogas digester, mixed at about 10kg per square hole of dimensions 1′ wide x 1’ deep with spacing of 10’ between holes.

For intercropping we shall add ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe) in the next rain season that starts February next year.

Lusuku Area View 1

Lusuku Area View 1

Lusuku Area View 2

Lusuku Area View 2

Smallholder & Commercial Farming Models Not the Future Africa Agriculture Revolution

There are a lot of interesting articles on the web on different farming models for Africa, many of which acknowledge that large scale farming is not possible. However the prescription is social enterprise driven engagement with small holder farmers, such as this New Model farming (http://africanbusinessmagazine.com/special-reports/new-model-farming/) and Realizing the potential for high returns from agriculture (https://agenda.weforum.org/2015/07/realizing-the-potential-for-high-returns-from-agriculture/)

However this new thinking is still flawed because there is no understanding of the thinking of small holder farmers which is grow enough to survive with a little left over to meet basic needs around the household. This does not lead to a focus on agronomical practices that increase yields, or in investments for growth past the current season, or even pursuit of higher revenues for better markets.

I have argued in a previous posts on the mindset shift required for agriculture to succeed in 2015 and beyond https://ugfarmer.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/mindset-shift-required-agriculture-success-for-2015-beyond/ and so has this author Agriculture in Uganda Where Next (http://ssmusoke.com/2014/10/08/agriculture-in-uganda-where-next/)

In summary the model is neither small holder farmers nor commercial farming, but rather a usually ignored hybrid of the two which is mid-tier family owned farming enterprises run by urban trained professionals.

Why would this be successful:

  1. Farms are run as agribusinesses, with cost and revenue models focusing on not only short term profits and longer term growth
  2. The mindset changes allowing the use of professionals such as veterinary doctors, agronomists, crop specialists to maximize the productivity of available land
  3. Increased use of agro-inputs such as improved seeds, agronomical practices such as irrigation, greenhouse farming, fertilizers, as well as pesticides/herbicides/fungicides to control pests and diseases.
  4. Access to capital and financing to smoothen out slumps
  5. Focus on revenues, leading to improved marketing, and distribution models.
  6. Ability to combine resources with others in cooperatives and farmers group to increase purchasing power, advocacy to drive government policy towards policy improvement.
  7. Mindset and appetite for growing economies of scale to improve revenues
  8. Mindset to embrace value addition to increase and stabilize revenues across peak and off-peak seasons

So in order to drive Africa forward the need is to grow the “middle class” agribusinesses which have the potential to feed the world.

What are your thoughts?

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

Mindset Shift Required Agriculture Success for 2015 & Beyond

So 2015 is the start of campaigns for the 2016 election year in Uganda, and President Museveni is preaching the gospel for the electorate on how they will grow and prosper in the times to come. One of the messages is Value addition in agriculture being key to Uganda’s growth along with commercial agriculture, which is being picked up and replicated by members of parliament.

However this is a flawed assumption, because it assumes that value addition is a fix for low agricultural productivity and revenues for small holder farmers. For anybody involved in any kind of value addition for agricultural products, the problem is that:

  1. The supply of the products is seasonal, low quality and inconsistent.
  2. The trade in products is largely comprised by “middlemen” who buy from the farmers at the lowest prices and try to sell to the consumers at the highest prices
  3. The market for value added products has to compete with lower priced imported products, which coupled with #1 does not make value addition profitable.

So what next, how does the President, government and leaders focus their energies to get agriculture to where it needs to be:

  1. Reduce the amount of counterfeit agricultural inputs especially seeds, agro-chemicals and fertilizers
  2. Improve financing opportunities for medium-holder farmers, who like the middle class bridge the gap between the small holders and large commercial farmers and concerns. The Agricultural Credit Facility (ACF) is not readily available
  3. Support the growth of agricultural cooperative societies over SACCOs. The societies deal with bringing the farmers together to leverage economies of scale, and reducing the cost of production, as well as providing a support system via input aggregation, learning, marketing, post-harvest processing.
  4. Identify, and negotiate trade deals for agricultural produce with international markets, which can be fulfilled by co-operatives in #3 above leading to their sustainability
  5. Set quality standards for produce to ensure that the market standards in #4 above are met
  6. Provide incentives for post-harvest processing and value addition. Why would contracts to supply produce to schools, army, police etc not be passed through the Uganda Cooperative Alliance – no handouts, just opportunity to make a difference.
  7. Revive and support crop and animal specific associations

What are your thoughts?