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Home Change Makers Onion Growing Has Been Chemaswet’s Magic Bullet

Onion Growing Has Been Chemaswet’s Magic Bullet

by Jacquiline Nakandi
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By Umar Nsubuga

Moses Chemaswet, 42, was born in Mutyoru Zone A Village, Kapchesombe parish, Kapchorwa district. Though his education was short, he decided to venture into farming, his childhood hobby.

Today, he has become a model farmer in the area. 

“My father was a poor man and could not afford to pay my school fees, so after primary seven, I didn’t continue with my studies. He encouraged us to get hold of the hoe if we wanted to survive. And indeed, it has helped me be what I am today,” Chemaswet says.

My father used to grow onions and Irish potatoes as the main source of food and income. 

“We grew up knowing that potatoes were the crop our family grew,” he explains.

How he started

“During that time, I had my small onion gardens. My father would sell the onions for me and we used the money to buy books. When I dropped out of school, I decided to continue with growing onions and cabbages because they didn’t take long,” he explains.

He says he planted potatoes on a small scale until 2005 when he went into commercial farming. By that time, he had become independent.

Chemaswet says he started serious farming in 2005 when he was 18 years old with a one-acre potato garden. 

“I was adding an acre every year, but in 2016, I hired 16 acres of land and planted Irish potatoes on it. It was a good harvest in 2017,” he recalls.

Chemaswet has six cows on his farm. Photos by Umar Nsubuga

Today, he owns four acres and hires over three acres where he grows cabbages, and onions. 

“I took time to learn some practices of onion growing because I wanted my produce to be different from others. To achieve this, I take great care in planning with my employees. I train them on how to manage the farm activities.

“I also train and explain to my workforce why practices such as spraying and irrigation are important. I also tell my employees the chemicals to use and the importance of good farm management practices,” he says.

Onions

Chemaswet grows four acres of onions. He grows the highly-yielding jambar F1. 

“I grow this variety because it is suitable to our environment and it yields well,” he says.

His onions start from a well-made nursery bed, where they spend about six weeks. They are then transplanted to the field, not far away from his main garden. 

“I get about 100 bags of 100kg from an acre,” he says.

This is around 10 tonnes per acre. He sells each bag between sh70,000-sh80,000 to buyers at the farm. 

“However, during periods of scarcity, the price goes to as high as sh150,000 a bag,” he says.

Last season, Chemaswet purchased a kilogramme of hybrid onion seeds at sh750,000, which he planted on an acre of land. The onions yielded 140 bags (each weighing 100kg). 

This variety of onions can be stored for six months. From an acre of onions, he gets between 100-150 bags. 

“I invest about sh2m in the production process and can get as much as sh130,000 per bag, but the price can fall to as low as sh60,000 in a bad season,” he says.

Zero grazing

Chemaswet’s cows play more than one role on the farm. At the moment, there are six cows with only three giving him milk.

 “The cow dung is collected and used as organic fertiliser for my crops,” he says. 

The cattle shed was constructed in such a way that the sludge from the dung flows into a small pit below the shed.

 It is then collected and poured into another pit, where it is later scooped and used in the various farm sections. In addition to manure, the three cows give him 15-18 litres of milk per day.

“On average, I can get 45 litres per day because I feed the cows well,” he says. 

He sells every litre at sh1,000 and earns about sh1,350,000, per month.

Cabbages

Currently, he has 15,000 hybrid cabbages on the two-acre piece of land.

Chemaswet says he decided to start a cabbage project because cabbages are an important vegetable in their region and it’s an emerging money crop.

He says there is a big market for cabbages. 

“In fact, customers come from Kenya and Sudan. When I realised that cabbages can be eaten as a salad, boiled alone or mixed with a sauce, I didn’t hesitate to grow it,” he says.

At the peak of the season, a medium-sized cabbage costs between sh500 and sh1,000 at the farm. However, during the dry season, they go for about sh1,500-sh2,500.

An acre takes around 15,000-20,000 cabbages, which makes an average sh7m-sh10m, depending on the season. Average costs per acre are sh5m, including buying seeds.

According to Chemaswet, well-drained soils enhance quick germination within 21-25 days before transplanting.

He says one needs to prepare the ground with organic materials to act as fertilisers, before thinking of transplanting.

Manure is one of the essentials for proper growth in the nursery bed, therefore, basal fertilisers, such as DAP, insecticide and fungicide give a healthy seed.

This is backed up with fine soils mulched with dry grass before water is applied using a watering can. Do not flood the seeds.

“Uproot the seedlings with roots. This ensures high chances of survival and better establishment in the main garden. Watering the seedlings one hour before transplanting moistures the soil for their survival,” he explains.

He says cabbages are usualy attacked by black rot, black leg, downy mildew and white rust diseases (which attack both the leaves and roots).

“Cabbages are ready at 65-75 days after planting. At this stage, they are firm with fully formed heads and weighing between 2kg-4kg,” he explains.

From an acre of cabbage, Chemaswet earns between sh4m and sh7m, depending on the season. He invests sh900,000 in the process.

Irrigation project

In 2020, Chemaswet adopted drip irrigation on his six acres of land. The whole setup was rudimentary — merely perforated plastic pipes connected to a ground spring to water the vegetable garden of onions, and cabbages.

“It got so tedious at times. I would water the garden from 6:00am to 6:00pm,” he says. 

In 2022, with sh5m, Chemaswet invested in rain bird irrigation technology.

He installed ground pipes with 20 sprinklers across the six acres. The sprinklers rotate at a radius of 12 metres spraying water on the farm. The irrigation system, despite its modesty, has opened a whole new chapter on Chemaswet’s farm.

With the irrigation system, he has cultivated throughout the year and maximised his gains from farming.

Growing vegetables all year round means that Chemaswet enjoys the benefits of monopoly during the off-season. 

“The advantage of such strategic farming is that I am one of the people who produce during times of scarcity,” he says.

Expenses

The farm employs two permanent workers. However, Chemaswet hires about five casual workers during the onions and cabbages harvesting period. 

“I hire them because I want to harvest the onions and cabbages as quickly as possible,” he says.

While he pays the permanent workers sh150,000 and provides accommodation and food, he pays the casual workers an average of sh5,000-sh10,000 per day depending on the activities. 

Bookkeeping

Bookkeeping is done at all levels and in different sections. 

“We keep separate records for each of the enterprises on the farm. For example, dairy unit records are kept separately from onions and cabbages,” he says.

These records cut across the human resource management system on the farm. 

“We pay workers salaries and allowances. We keep proper records of this so that we know whether we are making profits or not,” he says.

Plans

He plans to buy more acres of land and an irrigation system equipment to ensure a constant supply of water on the farm.

Challenges

Chemaswet says the weather has become so erratic, which has made farming more expensive. 

“Initially, we used to depend on rainwater, but today, without irrigation, one is not guaranteed a good harvest,” he says. 

He also decries fake farm inputs, especially seeds and chemicals on the market. 

“To avoid falling victim to these, I normally spend an extra coin to get inputs from Kenya,” he explains.

Getting the required skilled labour is also a challenge.

Mistakes and what he learned from them

Chemaswet says that when he was starting, he was applying a lot of artificial fertilisers with hopes that he would reap big. However this was a blander, he instead started using organic and everything improved.

Lessons for other farmers

Farmers should not fear to go for what they want, and use whatever land they have, it is not on huge chunks of land that can be used for farming.

When things fail, research those who have succeeded, it will help you improve. Try out different farming ventures such that in case one has failed; you will reap from another one.

What people say

Martin Kibet, farmer

He is a good farmer. Chemaswet is knowledgeable about farming. If you go to his farm for advice, he provides all the information you need.

 Sarah Mutai, Chemaswet’s neighbour

He always gives us free advice, especially to young farmers who live near his farm. This has helped us improve the quality of our products.

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