By Flavia Nassaka
How Kampalans are turning urban agriculture into a source of income and good nutrition
Her compound is a collection of numerous containers; bottles, tyres, vases, just name it. That is the ‘land’ on which Harriet Nakabale grows her crops. “I grew up knowing that every woman must have a garden. I devoted my weekends and some evenings after work to the garden,” says the resident of Kawaala near Kampala. Lack of land was not an excuse; and it doesn’t necessarily take huge investments to practice agriculture as a side job, she says. It only takes the passion and willingness to give it time.
Indeed, the issue of limited space in the city – she lives on a 50 X 30 ft plot of land – and an office job as a school secretary didn’t deter Nakabaale from having a home garden considering her village upbringing where buying stuff like vegetables was a taboo.
She started out by planting a few vegetables in flower vases on her veranda until she realized that anything can be turned into a garden. She started planting vegetables in polythene bags, sacks, used car tyres, jerrycans and anything that came her way. She even ventured into chicken rearing on her 50 by 30 ft plot of land. With time, the produce increased and she could no longer consume all of it.
“I started selling some vegetables like spinach, peppermint and stinking rose to my neighbors. Little did I know that my entrepreneurial gardening endeavor would also help support my children’s education and health,” she said with a contented smile.
Apparently, the days when agriculture was done mainly by the people in the country side are long gone. Currently, urban farming is a source of food for families and agriculture is becoming fashionable.
Abbey Kazibwe, a university lecturer, doubles as a green house farmer in Wakiso, 17 kilometers west of Kampala. “We don’t need a lot of space to practice sustainable agriculture. Green house farms are ideal since on a limited piece of land, one can plant different varieties of crops and keep harvesting all year irrespective of the season”, he says.
Kazibwe says that he had always wanted to do some agriculture but was not certain on how to do it alongside his office job since he had little time and land. It’s until he visited a colleague in Europe who had a green house in his compound that he got to know what to do.
Initially, it cost him about Shs 6m to build a 19 X 8 square meter green house. The requirements for the structure are mainly polythene, timber (tall eucalyptus trees), water for irrigation, strings, nails and 4 to 5 wheel barrows of soil. Thermometers are also vital in a green house to keep temperatures in check.
Green house agriculture is Ideal for urban farming where there is water, little land and ready market for the fruits and vegetables that grow well within the structures.
In a green house, tomatoes grow within a period of 72 days and the yields depend on the amount of spacing given to the crop during growth. The water melon grows in 100 days and a branch yields over 30 fruits. Cucumber matures in 45 days. He also grows pepper, onions, tomatoes and cucumber.
Kazibwe, who started green house farming two years ago, mainly supplies supermarkets. At every harvest he earns more than Shs 5m from a structure that can last for four years. Not bad for a side income.
Nakabaale is now the executive director of Camp Green and does farming as a full time job since her ‘rubbish’ has transformed to a flourishing garden and farm which has incidentally become a tourist attraction, a business and study center.
Camp Green is her urban farm almost akin to the biblical Garden of Eden complete with rare adorable fruits, herbs and vegetables like pomegranates and strawberries, eggplants and cauliflowers. There are the herbs–rosemary, lavender, thyme and mint. Leafy greens mix with root vegetables. Her poultry house has broilers, turkeys, guinea fowl, and geese.
Anderson Kanyike is another proud urban farmer dealing in poultry. He started out during his Senior Six vacation four years ago. Even when he joined university, the business carried on and is one of the urban farmers who supply 70% of the poultry products consumed in the city. A city boy, Kanyike is self-taught and is obviously a quick learner. His breeding stock is mainly of kroilers because the birds are more robust and market-ready sooner than the common local variety. Twice a year, he replenishes his stock with 500 birds.
Policy makers have come to appreciate the importance of urban agriculture. Dr. Micheal Kirya, the manager for Agriculture and Agri-business at KCCA, says operations like Kanyike’s make good sense in urban settings. They require relatively little space and they are close to markets, thereby reducing or eliminating many of the costs associated with transportation. Given the slim profit margins in Uganda’s poultry industry, these savings allow urban farmers to make a better profit than their rural counterparts.
Indeed, many people are jumping on the agriculture bandwagon and more so as modern and sustainable agriculture practices are setting in.
Agnes Kirabo an official from the Food Rights Alliance, a coalition of NGOs that advocate for food security, says people like Nakabale are in things because there is a ready market as people are now more conscious about good nutrition particularly eating local foods, greens and vegetables.
“One will feel more secure eating something he has seen growing with the on-set of suspicious foods such as GMOs,” she explains. Dr. Kirya says the abundance of information on the internet and in the media means anyone can engage in farming. He says food consumption in urban areas mainly consists of cheap, processed foods with low nutritional quality, which many modern families want to change.
Even when fresh fruit and vegetables are available, they are often unaffordable. The urban poor spend 50 to 70 per cent of their income on food. This is twice as much as their rural counterparts spend. The urban poor are therefore the most vulnerable to increases in food prices; when money is short, people will tend to adjust consumption towards high-calorie foods but with low nutritional value. Urban agriculture has the capacity to overcome this situation by providing a secure source of nutritional food for the urban poor and most people especially the elites are starting to realize this and given the fact that salaries especially for civil servants at times come in late, their small gardens can bail them out for some time, says Dr Kirya.
Until 2005, it was been illegal to carry out farming in the city because of the likely public health risks and nuisance but as of now, 40% of the people living in Kampala are carrying out some form of agriculture, according to Dr. Kirya. But, agriculture is now being carried out with caution with several guiding ordinances in place.
Urban farming can be done using green houses, veranda boxes, soil sacks, pots that are hanged on walls, among other forms. However, before setting up anything, Dr Kirya cautions that one must follow certain ordinances.
“We advise people who wish to start up projects to contact the production offices at the Division level before embarking on any venture. This helps one to get a clear picture of what he or she can do with the space available,” he added.