We were very enthusiastic about the prospect of engaging in farming in order to create a life we have always dreamt of and to give back to the community as well as preserve the environment. We acquired this farming land located 25 km from the City of Kampala over 30 years. The start of our journey was full of excitement and expectations but we quickly discovered that farming was not a bed of roses but full of challenges. The following are some of the key challenges we have faced and tried to overcome along the journey;
Lack of capital for tools and implements
We started farming without adequate capital to acquire suitable farming tools and implements. We had only some pangas and hoes which made the process of clearing the land and planting crops quite slow and expensive. We quickly realised that we needed tractors for bush clearance and ploughing the land but they were too expensive to buy and at the same time, there were not enough tractors available for hire. We opted to use a combination of pangas and hoes to clear the bush and hired tractors to plough the land ready for the planting of crops. The bush clearance tractors were not readily available for hire at affordable prices.
We quickly discovered that labour available on the market then was not suitable for farming as they lacked both basic training and commitment. The candidates with some skills were expensive and not willing to stay on the farm. We quickly started training local labour in modern farming practices but the commitment was lacking as they would work for a few weeks and then disappear. The lack of committed and trained labour is still a challenge up to this date. The graduates from colleges and universities lacked practical skills and many were looking for practical skills to enable them to search for better office work. We finally opted to use experienced staff from big farms and research institutions on contract by contract basis.
Seeds and seedlings
Quality seeds and seedlings were not readily available and when we managed to get them, they were quite expensive. The choice of seeds and seedlings up to now is still limited. This made it difficult to plant crops in time for the rain. We had to develop a seedlings nursery on the farm to reduce costs and ensure the availability of seedlings when required. For the supply of a number of seeds, we linked with the seed growers and main distributors. For example, it has taken us about 6 months to get the supplier of quality seedlings for the macadamia plant. There is no certified local supplier of macadamia seedlings. We are pursuing the option of importing from Kenya for about US$ 2 per seedling.
Government extension workers
The government has employed extension staff with the role of advising farmers on modern farming practices but they cannot be easily accessed by the farmers as they are based at district headquarters. Many of the extension staff were straight from colleges and universities and lacked practical skills. At the same time, the district still lacks a model garden to help in equipping the extension staff and the farmers with the necessary practical competencies. The other option was to use an available few private practitioners who required a lot of begging to visit the farm despite the fact we picked their professional fees. The situation has not changed much to date although we can now pick a lot of advice online from a number of sources.
The fertility of the soil has deteriorated over time and this has forced us to procure either organic or inorganic fertilisers to apply to the farm in order to improve the soil fertility. Without fertilisers, the crops get stunted resulting in poor yields. We have mainly faced challenges in getting the right fertilisers, at the right time, in the right quantities and at affordable prices. We have partly overcome the soil fertility challenges by using either chicken manure or animal dung. We have reared a few animals on the farm that produce organic manure.
Initially, we weeded the farm using human labour which proved to be expensive and unreliable. We faced challenges during the rainy season as the weeds could not dry and they ended up re-germinating. We therefore resorted to chemical herbicides in order to save on the cost of labour and to fully kill the weeds. Initially, we had challenges getting suppliers of chemicals but as time went by the number of suppliers of both selective and non-selective chemicals herbicides increased with a positive impact on both price and quality.
We have faced challenges in disease control resulting from different types of crop diseases without an easy treatment regime. For example, we had to abandon some crops like passion fruits because there was no right cure for passion diseases. A number of diseases have become resistant to some drugs on the market.
This was further complicated as the experts in crop diseases are not readily available and testing of samples could only be done at Makerere University and other research institutions at a high cost.
We have not faced uncontrollable animal diseases for the few animals on the farm because animal drugs are readily available on the market.
We initially relied on rain for the growth of crops until we started to face disasters of crop failure as a result of unreliable rainfall patterns. We had therefore to dig a number of ponds to preserve water for both fish farming and crop irrigation. Irrigation was not cheap as we had to use diesel pumps and pipes to carry water around the garden. We had also to dig channels to ensure water was flowing around the farm by gravity. We finally zeroed on crops which are not badly affected by the unreliable rain pattern.
We have found it extremely difficult to get a fair price for our crops because we cannot easily access the market to sell our produce. We have had to go through middlemen who are bent on buying cheaply from us in order to make better profits for themselves. In the early days we tended to grow common crops like maize and beans that mature at the same time for all farmers hence creating excess supply with a negative impact on the price. To overcome the above, we decided to grow only crops of high value that are not commonly grown by the community and we decided to add value to the produce at the farm level in order to get better prices.
We have found our journey in farming quite inspiring and full of lessons, challenges and achievements. Like a rose among thorns, we don’t regret the encounters in our farming journey as without these challenges as we do not think we would have reached this far. We have always taken it as our goal to find workable solutions to farming challenges instead of running away from them.