Thursday, June 20, 2024
Home Change Makers Kabiito Packs And Exports Fruits To Europe

Kabiito Packs And Exports Fruits To Europe

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Herbert Musoke

For the ninth year running, Vision Group, together with the Embassy of the Netherlands, KLM Airlines, dfcu Bank and Koudijs Nutrition BV, is running the Best Farmers’ Competition. The 2024 competition runs from April to November, with the awards in December. Every week, Vision Group platforms will publish profiles of the farmers. Winners will walk away with sh150m and a fully paid-for trip to the Netherlands

Market is a key aspect for any farming business, which is why it is important for one venturing into any enterprise to understand the market requirements, which will then determine their actions.

Farmer James Kabiito’s analogy is that several people have failed to succeed through farming because they invest without knowing what the market needs.

“At Greening Village Farming Centre, we conduct market surveys before planting, so that we understand the marketable varieties, farming practices allowed, such as pesticides and post-harvest handling, as well as qualities in size and appearance, among others. This is because the customer is the boss,” he says.

Kabiito is the director of Greening Village Farming Centre in Lugolwemodde village, Kyesiiga sub-county, Masaka district, where he grows passion fruits and pineapples for export and the local market with Victoria Horticultural Exporters Ltd.

He also grows coffee with some plots already under irrigation.

Hassan Miiro, the director of Victoria Horticultural Exporters Ltd (left), James Kabiito (middle), showing the boxes of passion fruits and pineapples packaged for export. Photos by Herbert Musoke

Kabiito and his family are fully involved in all the activities with the employees. “You will never get the best by only giving orders. Getting practically involved at the farm helps me get everything done as I want, which in turn maximises harvest,” he says.

How he started

Kabiito recounts that his parents were peasant farmers. Consequently, after completing A’level, they couldn’t afford his school fees, leading to his dropout.

As farming was the family’s main economic activity, he was enrolled in Bbuye Farm School in Rakai, where he acquired a diploma in farming.

Following his graduation, he worked at someone’s farm in Masaka for six months, saving sh350,000 from his sh100,000 monthly salary.

He used this savings to start farming with half an acre of passion fruits in 2004 on his father’s land in Masaka. From that, Kabiito now owns over 45 acres of land.

He cultivates 12 acres of coffee, four acres of passion fruits, and 10 acres of pineapples.

“I view farming as a shop where the vendor doesn’t sell one item, although there is always a money-making item. I cultivate multiple crops, ensuring continued income generation and prioritising quality,” he explains.

Passion fruit Using his savings of sh350,000, Kabiito started growing passion fruits on half an acre. The passion fruits yielded and he was inspired. Eventually, he expanded to 45 acres. He says growing passion fruits is a lucrative venture, but one must take good care of the garden.

Despite being among the most profitable ventures in farming, if not managed properly, one can incur significant losses.

Kabiito notes that one of the major challenges with passion fruits is wilts which can decimate the entire garden.

“There was a time we were severely affected by wilt. I almost gave up on farming because I solely focused on passion fruits.”

“Because of my passion, I have continued to research and innovate, resulting in a hybrid variety after grafting the local (Masaka) variety of passion fruits, with the yellow one,” he explains.

This hybrid produces large fruits with the same juice aroma as the local Masaka variety, but is resistant to wilt and tolerant of relatively harsh weather conditions. This provides assurance of a good harvest and maximises profits.

“Despite the variety’s disease and weather tolerance, we spray weekly, set insect traps and irrigate the farm because water is essential for farming success. We also produce plantlets from our nursery bed, which we sell at sh1,000 each,” he adds.

Currently, he has three acres from which he has begun harvesting three bags of passion fruits weekly.

He is optimistic that he will harvest between 20-30 bags weekly at the peak of the harvest. He sells his passion fruits both locally and also exports.

Locally, a bag fetches about sh250,000, while those sorted for export sell at sh3,000 per kilogramme.

“To sell in the export market, one must maintain high quality standards. The fruits must be spotless and unblemished at harvest time, and only fruits of uniform size with no pesticide residues should be sorted,” he advises.

Pineapples

After his passion fruits were hit by wilt, Kabiito ventured into pineapple farming in 2007. Upon visiting some pineapple farmers, he realised that the fruits are less susceptible to diseases and tolerant of harsh weather.

He began with one acre, and now he cultivates 14 acres of pineapples, with four acres of mature plantation and 10 of young plantation from which he has just started harvesting.

This strategy ensures the sustainability of his harvest, allowing him to maintain a consistent supply for the export market.

“As this is my livelihood, I ensure to plan for new gardens every year to ensure continuous production and market presence. Therefore, there is never a day when my farm has no pineapples,” he asserts.

“While bumper harvests occur in January and July, harvesting continues in smaller quantities throughout the year,” he adds.

Despite lower prices during peak harvest times, there is consistent harvesting throughout the year that ensures profitability.

According to Kabiito, pineapples take 18 months to start bearing fruit, with each plant yielding three to four fruits depending on garden care. It takes about three to four years for a plant to bear fruit every six months.

From his mature plantation, he was harvesting over 500 pineapple fruits weekly, and about 1,000 fruits from the new plantation.

He anticipates harvesting 4,000 fruits weekly from the new plantation at peak production. Kabiito notes that locally, the main markets are Nakasero and Kalerwe in Kampala, where each pineapple fetches an average of sh1,000.

However, these markets prefer larger pineapples, prompting him to seek alternative markets for smaller fruits. Additionally, pineapple plants produce suckers, which are sold for between sh50 and sh100 each, with each plant yielding five to six suckers.

Coffee

Kabiito manages 12 acres of coffee at various maturity levels, cultivating improved varieties such as KR1-7 from the National Coffee Research Resources at Kituuza alongside ordinary varieties (A, B, D, and H) mixed in the same garden. This strategic blend enables year-round coffee harvesting.

He underscores that coffee market viability hinges on quality. Thus, he prioritises quality planting materials, operating a coffee nursery bed where he propagates plantlets through clonal cuttings, also selling them to other farmers.

Adapting to changing trends, Kabiito experiments with planting systems, shifting from the conventional 10ft by 10ft spacing advised by the Uganda Coffee Development Authority to his customised 10ft by 5ft layout to enhance productivity.

“With the 10ft by 5ft system, an acre can accommodate about 900 plants. However, this demands daily farm management, including fertilisation, weeding, proper spacing, disease and pest control,” he explains.

Currently, three acres are fully mature, yielding between 2,700kg to 3,000kg of processed coffee beans (kase) annually, sold at between sh8,500 and sh11,000. Harvesting has commenced on new acres.

 He emphasises proper garden management, including fertilisation and weeding, and selective picking of ripe, red berries at harvest to ensure high-quality green beans. Coffee is dried on tamplines to prevent contamination.

“Our dried coffee is stored in sacks in a cool, well-ventilated space on raised platforms, processed annually,” he says.

Water

“As a progressive farmer in the community, the agriculture ministry cost-shared with me to install a solar-powered water system for production, which amounted to over sh600m. Even before this initiative, some of my gardens were already under irrigation, where I utilised a water pump purchased at shs1.4m to extract water from dams for irrigation,” he explains.

Currently, he has ample water resources to irrigate his farm, which he is distributing across all the gardens using pipes.

Family The nursery bed is fully managed by Kabiito’s wife, Noeline Nabaggala, who asserts that she has garnered significant experience from her tenure at the nursery.

She oversees every aspect of its operation, from procuring planting materials to handling sales.

Benefiting the community

Billy Mutalaga, the chairperson of the Farmers’ Forum in Kyesiiga sub-county, says Kabiito is a pioneering farmer whose continual adoption of innovative practices drives agricultural development in the area.

He attests that Kabiito’s farm serves as a beacon of progress and learning for local farmers. Kabiito affirms the role of his farm as a model for agricultural education, particularly in coffee management, passion fruit cultivation, and general agronomic practices. Workers Kabiito and his family actively contribute to the workforce on the farm.

Additionally, there are 10 permanent employees who receive monthly salaries ranging between sh150,000 and sh300,000.

“During peak seasons or when there’s a surge in workload, we hire casual labourers, paying them between sh7,000 and sh10,000 per day,” Kabiito explains.

As part of the farm’s workforce, Kabiito compensates himself with a monthly salary of sh800,000.

Challenges

One of the primary challenges in farming is expenses such as labour wages, purchasing chemicals and transportation costs, among others.

Meeting the quantity demands for the export market is a challenge. Another challenge he faces is theft, particularly with coffee. To mitigate this risk, he has implemented security measures by hiring personnel to safeguard the gardens.

Record keeping

Guests at Kabiito’s farm are required to sign the visitors’ book as part of the farm’s record-keeping protocol. By maintaining comprehensive records, Kabiito ensures that his farm operates efficiently and remains responsive to the evolving needs of the agricultural landscape.

Plans

Kabiito’s ambitious vision includes the establishment of a processing factory named Kyesiiga Beverage Bottling Company.

The factory will utilise the smaller pineapples and passion fruits that buyers often leave behind, thereby generating additional income for both the farm and other farmers in the area.

“In the next 10 years, our goal is for this farm to become the premier agricultural operation in the greater Masaka region,” he says.

Export yields

Hassan Miiro, the director of Victoria Horticultural Exporters Ltd which exports Kabiito’s fruits, says upon establishing contact with Kabiito, they formalised their partnership by signing a memorandum of agreement detailing the quality and quantities required to supply.

“For traceability purposes, we mapped his farm and assigned it a unique code, which is always attached to his fruits whenever he makes a supply. Over the last two years of our collaboration, he has consistently fulfilled his obligations while also encouraging other farmers in his community to participate,” he explains.

Miiro emphasises that the export market demands a high level of sensitivity. Therefore, farmers must meticulously adhere to specified chemical usage, agronomic practices for achieving the required sizes, and proper post-harvest handling procedures, among other requirements.

What others say

Harriet Luzze, farmer

Kabiito has opened the gates of his farm for anyone willing to learn farming.

He has been giving out plantlets for free or at a discount, which has helped many people in the area engage in commercial farming.

Frujensio Sebudde, farmer

Kabiito’s wish is for everyone to learn good farming practices and transform their gardens.

He is innovative and has come up with varieties, practices and technologies to promote farming.

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