Kampala — Deep in Mabira forest, there is a spice island! It is in form of a 360-hectare assorted spice shamba. To the lay eye, the farm looks nothing less than just partly cleared section of Mabira forest.
But on close scrutiny, one observes that there are tens of thousands of elephant grass-like plants among the rows of very tall trees. Further scrutiny indicates that almost each of the trees has got a climbing plant growing on it.
The spice shamba is owned by one of the largest spice farms, Fourways Group of Companies. "We got the initial seeds from India," says Ivan Bolingo, the farm manager.
Cardamom cannot grow under direct sunshine. It grows under trees. The tree cover should be as high as 50 feet above the tip of the plants because cardamom cannot sustain the competition for space," Bolingo explains.
Once planted, the cardamom seeds take 45-60 days to germinate. Two weeks after germination, they are transferred into a secondary nursery for about eight months. Cardamom flowers after 18 months.
The fruits resemble small oval nuts and inside are several black seeds that produce the spice.
After harvesting, cardamom seeds are dried and graded before being sold off.
Everyday, they harvest between 50-60kg of cardamom. Each kilogramme is sold between sh15,000-25,000 depending on the grade. Cardamom is used as a spice in almost all beverages.
On the same 360 acres is black and white pepper. These are climbing plants that thrive alongside trees. Like cardamom, the seeds were imported from India.
"We took advantage of the thousands of trees and planted the seeds around their trunks. However, the plants do not have any negative effect against the trees, because they do not depend on them for survival.
"Unlike cardamom, black pepper flowers only once a year and the farm harvests are about 500kg a year. We are yet to enter any big foreign market.
Most of our produce is sold to local beverage makers like Tyson and Knock Out Waragi," Bolingo says.
If there are crops that one can grow without affecting the environment, then cardamom and black pepper are some of them.
Since cardamom thrives under the shades of trees, while black pepper climbs on trees, no farmer can cut them down. This is a case for production without destroying the environment.
"We are keen on protecting our environment. This is why we selected crops that do not require cutting down trees," D. W. Kasozi, Fourways General Manager, Operations, says.