With hydroponic farming, you will never be affected by seasons and soil-borne diseases which have for long been a thorn in the flesh of farmers causing countless losses.
Kenneth Ssempijja, the director of Hydroponic Farming Uganda at Masooli-Kasangati in Wakiso district, says as a farmer, he had lost his crops on many occasions due to fusarium wilt until he went for hydroponic farming.
“Despite roasting the soil as it has been done by many urban farmers and those farming from greenhouses, the diseases still manifest whenever the soil is watered because the bacteria will always be dormant awaiting favourable conditions,” he says.
Ssempijja owns three greenhouses where he grows English cucumber, as well as tomatoes including cherry, round and ordinary. He also grows sweet pepper and other vegetables.
His farming journey
Ssempijja has a diploma in electrical engineering. However, while growing up, his father used to tell him that money is in the soil because it is the bone that supports everyone to stand tall.
“This stuck in my head and I started farming in Primary Three with a garden at home. During Christmas, one could only get money for the day after selling their harvest. Therefore, he who did not have a garden would never get money for clothes and buying soda and chapati during outings,” he says.
After sitting Senior Four at DLK Muwonge SSS at Ntunda in Mukono district in 2009, Ssempijja stayed at his parents’ home at Kyabazaala-Mukono for three years growing pawpaw.
“In 2012, I came to Ntinda to live with my aunt (a sister to my mother), for further education in a technical institute. While at her place, I met her friend who had a plot of about 100ft by 50ft at Kisosonkole-Nalya and because he was told that I was farming in the village, he asked me to use it but did not know what to plant,” he recalls.
At the time Ssempijja also applied for a certificate in electronics at Global Institute at Kubbiri (Bwaise), he studied for two years and finished in 2014.
He was advised that Uganda Coffee Development Authority (UCDA) was looking people with land and were willing to establish coffee nursery beds. He then went to UCDA offices and applied and luckily, he was given the two-year contract that he renewed up to 2016.
“On getting the contract, UCDA gave me a shade net for the nursery bed. After the expiry of the second contract, I terminated the working relationship with UCDA and had to think on what I have to do next. I had visited some greenhouses and realised it was expensive and could not afford it,” he says.
Venturing into tomato growing
Ssempijja realised he could use the same shed he had been using for the coffee nursery bed to plant other crops. He then went for tomatoes in 2017, where he planted 150 plants. He used sh1m, but made a loss because he only earned sh40,000. “The variety I planted had no market in Uganda because it was very small – the size of eggplants (entula). The only customer I got ordered for tomatoes worth sh100,000 on credit and only paid shs40,000 saying he could not pay the remaining money nor come for more because he didn’t have buyers for my tomatoes,” he recalls.