Hellen Machika, the proprietor of Feed all Uganda Ltd, embodies a group of many urban farmers who have made urban farming their financial mainstay.
Growing up, Machika had a passion for farming and went on to pursue it at Makerere University. To her farming is not just a source of livelihood but something that defines her persona. She says her life revolves around farming. So many plants cover her home in Kasangati.
Even without bias, one can tell she lives, bleeds, sleeps and wakes up thinking about farming.
It is no coincidence, farming runs in her blood. She picked the passion from her paternal uncle who worked in Budaka as an agricultural officer.
“I admired the way he dispensed agricultural knowledge and would help farmers who brought their sick plants and would treat them with expertise. As a young girl, I made a commitment to do agriculture and bring solutions to farmers,” she says.
Her passion for farming grew even stronger at the various places where she worked for over ten years.
In 2002, after graduating from the university she worked in two agricultural related fields.
First, she worked with British America Tobacco (BTA) in a ranch which had crops and cows in Nakasongola and then worked with Israel firm Agromax.
Eventually, in 2013, she decided to quit a well-paying job to start her own company; Feed all Uganda Ltd in her small sized piece of land in Kasangati where she lives into urban farming.
“I decided to quit my job and give more time to my own farming projects as a freelancer,” she says. Her place is sliced into a residential house and mixed urban farm projects and uses her balcony as a consultancy center.
It’s here that she does the training on how best to do urban farming as business. She also takes her training to school where she does demo urban farming as well as inculcating the passion among students.
“Perhaps, if it was not my uncle who influenced me to love farming, I would be doing something else,” she says.
Through offering consultancy services, she discovered that in urban centers, the market was readily available for organic vegetables and yet so many people were not properly utilizing their space for commercial purpose.
“I decided to train people on how to utilize their small space for urban farming.” For that reason, she is often in and out of her gated home offering consultancy to several farmers.
To maintain a reservoir of knowledge, she progressively seeks for knowledge improvements from various agricultural shows and reading harvest money pull-outs and other farming literature.
The more she offers consultancy, the more her urban farming project is promoted. “There some people who don’t know how to run urban farming in a small space, so I actually need to teach them at site, in doing so my work is being advertised,” says Machika.
That is exactly what inspired her start urban farming at her home and be a doer of what she preaches.
“Mine is a mixed urban farm with a green house where I raise seedlings of different crops and sell them to farmers,” she says.
She runs her farming project with a team of four fulltime staff, two at her home and two at the open field where she does farming on yet a big scale. She sub-contracts extra labor force when she gets big contracts.
Fortified with experiential insight in the field, she decided to turn her house into a hub of various crops. All she needed to start was the practical knowledge and her personal savings to give her place a green touch.
Her green finger grows crops inside and outside her gated house. When her main gate opens, one is welcomed with rushing green potted plants and medicinal plants, which include lavender, lemon balm and rosemary among others. Machika mixes the soil she uses in her potted plants.
Home made fertilisers
She says she mixes sun dust (olusenyente), manure and black soil in a corresponding proportion and then puts the mixture in either polythen bag or in plastic containers. If the soil is not properly mixed, it will become gluey and the plant will not be able to grow, she cautions.
She built an irrigation system around her farm which ensures constant flow of water especially during dry spells. Apart from the plants which are planted at the entrance of her main gate with the aim of attracting potential clients, other plants are fenced off from the public view as a way of providing physical security.
Machika rears local chicken and quail birds. “The good thing about quail birds they start laying eggs early and the eggs are on high demand because of their medicinal use.” She sells the tray of eggs of local chicken at sh15,000 and a mature local bird ranges between sh35,000 to sh40, 000.
Readily available market
Machika says the markets for her produce are readily available. “We have people who come here at my home and buy directly from us at relatively low prices.
We also have supermarkets where we supply twice a week,” she says, she adds “there some youth who frequent her place during the harvest time to buy and resale in the market.”
However, her biggest source of income comes from selling seedlings to farmers who would like to start off big farming projects.
For instance, a seedling of Maxim FI tomatoes goes for sh1000 and commando tomato goes for sh500 from the nursery bed. Chinese cabbage seedling goes for sh250 while eggs plant (Biringanya) cost sh300.
She says at the close of the month when she rounds up all her different enterprises her monthly net income earning comes to sh5m.
Machika says she set up a proper follow up system that records every activity carried out at her different farm projects. “Once a week, I sit down with my staff and we do stock taking followed by weekly record updates,” she says.
The permanent staff are required to account for every sale and transaction they make on a daily basis. For the seedlings, she says she records the process from the time the seeds are put in the nursery bed to the time they are sold out. In doing so, she is able to audit and do proper stock taking of her enterprise.