According to McWilliams Edward Mponye, a ginger farmer in western Uganda it is critical that prospective farmers acquire knowledge because farming is not a get rich quick scheme.
He explains that job cuts could make many people consider farming as an investment. The Covid-19 pandemic has stressed most economic activities including essential services such as agriculture.
“Farming is set to create more jobs in post Covid-19 due to ongoing layoffs. However, if you don’t have the nine lives of a cat, think twice,” Mponye says.
Mponye cautions that one should be able to justify their investment and show that they have been sufficiently informed about how their business could turn out.
“Most farmers do not share losses, but losses are real. Some are 100 per cent, others are 200 per cent. That is a story of my life,” he says.
His advice comes as many farmers and agribusinesses continue to battle with diseases, market challenges, climatic changes, low yields and high costs of production.
“If you can’t sustain handling losses, give farming a break. The good thing is when you’ve known how things work, it’s fun and very profitable,” he said. He addresses the key areas that must be considered.
Poultry farming has proven to be a lucrative business and a major consideration for short-term investment.
Commercial poultry farming offers an opportunity for people to earn big amounts of money. He says you can get all things right with the right equipment and chicks but still struggle with farm sanitation, feeds, medication system and marketing strategies.
“Poultry is an interesting option. One time I reared 500 layers but was not keen. At seven months, only 126 were laying. It was frustrating since layer feeds are the most expensive and yet a mere change in feeding program can cost you heavily,” he says.
Maize is an important food and income security crop that supports livelihood of millions of small-scale farmers in Uganda. However, average yields of maize have remained as low 2.2-2.5 metric tones per hectare, compared to the potential of 8 MT/ha.
The quality standards of maize grain produced is generally low, and losses during harvesting, transport, storage and processing are relatively high. To Mponye, the biggest frustration is always with seeds.
“Getting the best quality seeds is as important as the desired output. You need to buy from recognized seed companies or registered and licensed stockists to avoid any doubt,” he says. Poor quality seeds will hardly germinate and if they do, they underperform.
“Fake fertilizers too await you. Some unscrupulous sellers mix fertilizers with sand and repackage as NPK. It is your bill, always be on the watch,” he adds.
“Don’t be fooled by the red pictures of bumper harvests. Tomatoes can give you stroke,” Mponye says of the variety of problems that can stand in the way of a good harvest.
He notes that tomatoes are highly prone to various attacks -- viral, fungal and bacterial diseases as well as pests. Early blight, late blight, curly top and wilting need a vigilant farmer.
“Someone who has not gone through proper handling of tomatoes may even give up because they are labor intensive with regular inspection,” he says adding that “tomatoes tend to flood the market significantly reducing the price in a flash.”
Some people who have large chunks of land normally think of cattle farming. Indeed it can be a highly profitable venture to those who know of the good practices.
To begin with, one needs at least facilities with water, fences and feeders on top of securing permits from local authorities. Mponye explains that cattle feeding needs to be handled with care to meet the beef or milk output.
“One should be able to join cooperatives or explore market options early.” Dairy cows are also very vulnerable to diseases which requires a standby veterinary doctor. That thing can show signs of sickness in the evening and by morning its dead!
“Floods can wreak havoc on your farm. You will get to the field and find all your precious plants that were glowing few hours ago swept away. Water logging is also a serious issue as it increases soil acidity and reduce fertility and crops get stunted,” Mponye says.
He emphasizes proper drainage for farms located in areas with heavy rains. Livestock structures in such heavy rain areas, need to be well built as storms can kill your livestock, he says. Having prior knowledge and or working with extension workers is the ideal solution to rainwater harvesting.
Agriculture markets are highly volatile. But Uganda enjoys local markets as well as regional (East African Community plus Comesa) and international markets in the European Union and Asia.
Beginners may need to find out the supportive policy and legal frameworks in terms of registration, licensing and regulation, improved access to agri-inputs and agri-finance. But several constraints stand in the way especially high costs of production, inadequate processing, insufficient output and quality concerns.
“It is not wise to invest in an enterprise with promising foreign markets,” he says referring to the collapse of the chilies exports.
Personal protective equipment is necessary to protect farmers and other agricultural workers from pesticides, grain dust, mold and other hazards. One needs a long-sleeve shirt, long pants and gumboots when mixing, loading, and applying pesticides.
Protective eye-wear, chemical-resistant gloves or overalls need to be on the farmer’s shopping list. While certain skills are required to operate some farm machinery. There is evidence that agriculture is in many respects a dangerous activity. Accidents--fatal, serious and minor-- cost the farmer in monetary terms as well as bringing suffering.
Farm Kiosk - Agronomist