As we dive into 2024, farmers, and those planning to venture into farming as a business, are pondering on which crops to invest in for high returns.
Several crops are viable, based on their demand and will make money in 2024, according to the factors surrounding their demand and prices last year.
However, you should work with experts from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, the National Agriculture Research Organisation and other bodies for the best agronomic practices and marketing, write Herbert Musoke and Joshua Kato.
A report from the agriculture ministry indicates that banana production increased from 4,803,000 tonnes in 2017 to 5,263,800 tonnes in 2018, reflecting a 9.6% increase.
The boom is attributed to relatively stable weather and increased capacity building on good agronomic practices.
Additionally, the report says the average price for matooke has been sh800 per kilogramme for the past five years and domestic trade values at $1.01b (about sh3.8 trillion). Phillip Lubega, the director of Philly Mixed Farm at Saayi village, Ntenjeru sub-county in Mukono district, says the demand for matooke in Kampala and other urban communities that are growing every day will continue to rise.
He adds that throughout 2023, matooke prices averaged sh35,000 for a medium-sized bunch.
Lubega, however, says the majority of the farmers are using rudimentary agronomic practices, which have retarded the production and productivity of banana plantations.
“Many farmers I have visited in Kyaggwe, as the officer in charge of farming in the county, are still planting bananas without any fertiliser applied. The farmers barely do any pest and disease management. This has led to plantations fading quickly, lowering matooke production,” he explains.
However, the population that demands matooke as food has continued increasing. The disproportionate demand-to-supply ratio has led to high prices during the festive season. A bunch would go for sh50,000 and above. Lubega sells his matooke by the kilogrammes.
He says a kilogramme was selling at sh1,200 during the festive season. With good agronomic practices of weeding, fertiliser use, pest and disease management, mulching and irrigation, among others, one can get a bunch weighing 60kg and above.
To invest in an acre of land, you need at least sh3.7m for a start if you have the land. For clearing and cultivating the land, you shall use sh300,000, sh675,000 for digging holes, sh2.25m for clean suckers and sh500,000 for organic fertiliser (decomposed cow dung/chicken droppings). If you target February’s fi rst rains, you will harvest by Christmas.
Soya beans and sunflower
Dr Samuel Ssewagudde, the director of Tunga Nutrition, a distributor of Hendrix Concentrates, explains that the demand for soya beans and sunflower shall rise because of the companies starting to produce feed concentrate locally.
An agriculture ministry report indicates that the current domestic oil raw material contribution is less than 20%. Beyond 80% of raw materials for oil-crop-based products, like cooking oil, soap ingredients and animal feeds, are imported.
Therefore, $370m (about sh1.4b) is drained from the economy annually to import palm oil, sunflower, soya and olive oil.
Dr Ssewagudde says the entry of companies like Tunga Nutrition, which is starting to produce Hendrix Concentrate locally and with demand in millions of tonnes for a month, farmers should venture into growing soya bean and sunflower.
“Annual local production of soya is about 40,000 metric tonnes. If it is processed and some of it consumed by humans, you remain with less than 20,000 metric tonnes, far below the requirement,” he says.
Soya can be grown in most regions of Uganda. Therefore, anybody with land can invest in it. To invest in an acre of soya, a farmer spends about sh2- sh3m for seed and labour.
The average yield from the common varieties that are taken care of well is 3,000kg (three tonnes) per acre. The price per kilogramme ranges between sh2,500 and sh3,000.
This gives between sh7.5m and sh9m per acre. Prof. Phinehas Tukamuhabwa at the School of Agricultural Sciences, Makerere University, says the country has enough soya seeds to be planted and cater for the defi cit, but the uptake of the crop is still low.
“Research is being done to get better seeds,” he says.
With innovations such as using cassava in breweries and baking, the demand for the crop is ever-increasing.
Ivan Balamaga Wasswa, a cassava farmer at Ngogwe in Buikwe district, explains that if one invests in growing cassava, they will make money this year because the demand is high.
“Grow cassava as a business starting with about fi ve acres so that big buyers can come and harvest in tonnes. However, when it matures, you can take it to trading centres and markets,” he says.
Balamaga adds that cassava is easier to grow than other crops, considering aspects like fertilising the land and weeding. However, they grow improved varieties, especially NAROCAS 1 and NAROCAS 2, which are mature enough for home consumption by eight months, but require 12 months for the market. If you plant NAROCAS 1 or NAROCAS 2 and care for it well, with good rains, three plants will produce a sack that can be sold at sh160,000.
From 2,600 plants in an acre, you will get 86 sacks. Thus, if sold at sh160,000 per sack on the farm, you will earn more than sh13m from an acre.
But if you sold a tuber in trading centres, each basin/ heap can go for sh5,000- sh10,000.
The demand for mushrooms is influenced by several innovative products like powder for cosmetics, drinking powder, wine and samosas.
Abel Kiddu, one of Vision Group’s best farmers and the director of African Mushroom Farmers at Lufuma zone in Makindye municipality, Kampala, explains that growing mushrooms is a very profitable venture yet it requires very little capital to start.
“If you are to grow mushrooms, the house can be made with timber or papyrus. The roofing should be a grass thatch or papyrus with tarpaulins. The house should have proper air circulation. It should be cool with high humidity. You must water the gardens two to three times a day, according to the weather conditions,” he says.
In the house, the gardens are placed on wooden shelves.
“A 20ftx15ft house can be used to grow up to 1,000 gardens. The house can require an initial capital of sh4.5m. It can cost about sh1.5m to construct. One thousand gardens cost sh3m,” he says.
Kiddu says each garden produces 1.5kg in three months of its production life. Thus, from a garden you bought at sh3,000, you will earn sh7,500 with each kilogramme selling at sh5,000.
For sustainable production, you need to stock every month for consistent production.
Vegetable growing is one of the enterprises ventured into not only for food security, but also for quick money as many of them mature quickly. Some will take just 30 days to harvest for the market.
Vegetables like amaranth (dodo), nakati, cabbage, sukuma, spinach, spring onions, tomatoes, pepper, eggplant, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce have markets.
Joseph Male, the director of Avail Faith Farm, says vegetable growing is an enterprise that people with limited capital and space can venture into because it is not capital-intensive and can be done in a small space with a high return on investment.
“Many of the varieties take a short time to mature. Sukuma, spinach and spring onions take about 30 days before you harvest. Eggplant takes about 70-80 days,” he says.
For example, with cabbage that matures in about 65 days, each head goes for between sh400 and sh1,000. An acre takes about 12,000 heads and if about 5,000 are sold at sh1,000, you will earn sh5m.
By selling about 1,000 at sh800, you will earn sh800,000. Director Male explains that for a farmer to benefit more, they should understand the market first.
“Specialised vegetable varieties have higher market prices that those who aim to make quick money should go for. These include spinach, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and beetroot,” he says.
The COVID-19 pandemic hiked the demand for fruits, including passion fruits.
James Kabiito, the director of the Greening Farming Centre at Lugolwemodde in Kyesikiga sub-county, Masaka district, explains that passion fruit growing is a worthy investment.
Kabiito says an acre will take 700 passion fruit plants and produce an average of five bags every week. If sold at a minimum of sh300,000 a sack, you will earn sh1.5m weekly and sh6m a month.
If you spend sh2m on managing the plantation, you will be making sh4m as profit a month and you can harvest this for a year.
‘Emmwaanyi terimba’ is a slogan used to promote coffee growing, meaning that if you plant coffee, you can never go wrong because you will always make money from it. Although it is not a crop that will yield in one year, the sooner you plant it, the better.
Edward Lutaakome, the Uganda Coffee Development Authority manager for the central region, explains that the Government intensified efforts towards coffee to produce up to 20 million 60kg bags by 2040, which means that the demand for coffee is still very high.
On the other hand, the National Coffee Research Institute has innovations like drinking coffee, creams, scrubs, baking and yoghourt, among others, to increase local coffee consumption.
These innovations increase the demand and prices for coffee in Uganda and promote exportation for household incomes and foreign exchange.
The enormous uses of maize — ranging from food for many households, schools, hospitals and prisons to feeds for poultry and livestock — will continue to make money this year as the demand increases with the new emerging companies and firms.
Robert Mwanje, the chairperson of the Grain Council of Uganda, an umbrella body for stakeholders in the business, explains that with the reliable rains received in the last quarter of 2023, grain crops, especially maize, rice, sorghum and millet, will have a good harvest.
“Although we have been having challenges with falling prices during bumper harvests, we anticipate that the demand and prices will be good because of new markets opening up across Africa in Algeria and Libya,” he says.
If land is available, you need about sh2m to cultivate and manage an acre of maize. Sh1m shall be spent on quality hybrid seed, as well as sh300,000 for clearing and weeding.
If the harvest is good, say 2,800kg, you will earn about sh3m with a kilogramme going for sh1,200. Uganda has two seasons in a year.
The first planting season is in March while the second is in August-September. A farmer can earn sh6m from one acre.