It is 7:00am on a foggy Wednesday morning in Buwambo village in Wakiso district, about 20 miles away from Kampala.
Henry Kayiira carries a bundle of vegetables on his motor-bike.
He harvested them the evening before and is now headed to Mpererwe, a Kampala suburb to sell them.
Kayiira is one of thousands of farmers who grow vegetables in the ‘vegetable belt’ that feeds Kampala and its environs.
Kayiira’s vegetables will find their way to a dinner table in one of the affluent suburbs of the city.
“That is what makes me proud. Knowing that my vegetables are eaten by the affluent in this country,” he says.
The ‘vegetable belt’ runs through Wakiso in areas around Kakiri, Namayumba and Masulita and skirts around Matugga, Buwambo, Busukuma, Bugema, Busiika, Zirobwe and parts of Kalagi and Nakifuma in Mukono district.
The vegetables are grown along the various small rivers and streams that criss-cross these areas. Every morning and evening, trucks carrying vegetables are seen on the main roads — Gayaza Zirobwe, Matugga-Semuto and Gayaza-Kalagi to deliver vegetables of various types to Kampala.
The main destinations include Kalerwe, Wandegeya, St Balikudembe and Nakawa markets. It is not easy to know how many tonnes of vegetables are produced from these areas, however in the Zirobwe, Bugema and Busukuma area alone, at least 10 trucks deliver various types of vegetables to city markets every day.
“I take vegetables to Kalerwe twice a week,” says Moses Kizito, who drives a Nissan Sahara. He delivers an estimated two tonnes per trip.
While there are farmers who grow vegetables on a large scale, most of them are small scale. The common vegetables are tomatoes, nakati, dodo, bugga, cabbages and green pepper. While many of them own small pieces of land on which they grow the vegetables, most of them simply hire land from other farmers.
Richard Segujja, 29, a farmer in Katende village, Wakiso district says: “I have been growing indigenous vegetables since 2004. I began by growing cabbages, but because of pest infestation that led to low yields, I decided to focus on growing nakati and eggplants on a large-scale.”
Together with his group of five people, they now have about 12 acres located in different parts of Wakiso. All the land is hired at an average sh150,000 per year.
“I began growing vegetables on only one acre with sh200,000 capital that I invested in purchasing seeds and manure,” Segujja says.
Just like most of the farmers here, Segujja mainly depends on the weather and the streams to grow vegetables.
During the dry season, he waters the vegetables. Segujja says the advantage of growing vegetables is that they mature within a short period and, therefore, bring quick income.
“Nakkati matures within two and a half months during the rainy season, but may take three months during the dry season. Bugga, and other vegetables take between two to four months to mature,” he says.
Tomatoes and cabbages take between two and a half and three months. The farmers apply organic fertilisers to replenish the soils.
“In the start, I used to purchase manure made from chicken droppings and at times cow dung from my neighbours’. I used to rent a truck at between sh40,000 and sh60,000 because the distance to my gardens is not long. However, it is not always easy to get manure from farmers because they also use it,” he says.
While some of the farmers buy improved high-yielding tomato seeds like Assila, most of them make their own vegetable seeds. For example, for nakati, Segujja lets it grow to maturity to get seeds.
Most farmers use the ‘broadcasting’ method to grow nakati, dodo and bugga. This is where seeds are scattered randomly around the farm.
This is irrespective of the fact that research recommend planting vegetables in rows because it is easier to control pests. “Planting in rows is labour intensive and time consuming,” says Segujja.
But overall, Segujja says the business is fulfilling. A small bundle of nakati costs sh500 at the farm. However, the same bundle costs sh1,000 in Kampala. A farmer can earn between sh2m and sh3m per acre, against a production cost of less than sh500,000.