29 June 2010

Uganda: Banana - The Hidden Gold in Ntungamo

Kampala — Polly Asiimwe wakes up at 6:00am everyday to attend to his banana plantation in Ihunga, Ntungamo district. Five years ago, Asiimwe used to despise farming in favour of cattle rearing. But today, the banana plantation sitting on a two-acre piece of land is his major source of livelihood.

High returns realised

In a week, Asiimwe can harvest up to 20 bunches of matooke and five of sweet bananas. This has forced him to shift from rearing animals and planting other crops to concentrate on banana farming. He says matooke has virtually replaced their indigenous traditional food (millet). The farm-gate price of a bunch of matooke currently is between sh2,000 and sh4,000.

The prices rise to sh6,000 when the farmers find the buyers in the city centre. Asiimwe, who is the chairman of Nombe Cell, says the prices go up to sh15,000 during times of scarcity. He is one of the hundreds of matooke farmers in the district who eke a living out of the food crop. On a good day, Asiimwe can earn up to sh80,000 and he is struggling to plant more to make more money.

Albert Mugabe, the Ntungamo district National Agricultural Advisory Services coordinator, says farmers have been able to realise high profits from their banana gardens because the soils are still fertile and favour banana growing. The high yields of matooke in almost every home leaves no one interested in buying another's produce, save for outsiders who visit the district and a few town dwellers.

Ntungamo, which lies in the southwestern part of Uganda, has about 490,000 people, according to the National Population Census estimates.

Team work key for success

Besides, Mugabe says, the farmers have formed groups and drafted strict regulations governing themselves. "In Kigarama village, Nyabihogo sub-county for example, the farmers have by-laws guiding them, and a farmer who fails to adhere to them is taken to the sub-county court and fined," he notes.

The farmers here grow matooke under Kigarama Matooke Cooperative Society and have formed their own Savings and Credit Cooperative Society organisation. The farmers also ensure that all farmers apply the new farming methods like pruning and water flow control and adhere to the advice given by NAADS officials.

Mugabe says farmers monitor themselves and evaluate their productivity to ensure progress. He adds that through their groups, they have learnt how to market their matooke and set uniform prices to avoid exploitation.

Mugabe says the farmers fight banana diseases as a group, citing the banana bacterial wilt disease that had attacked Nyabihoko sub-county two years ago, but has tremendously reduced today.

"When we taught the farmers how to cut and bury the affected plants, they would do it as a group in their gardens because they are near each other," he says.

Mugabe reveals that the farmers in Ntungamo get about sh800m in a month from banana sales.


Mugabe, however, noted that the major challenge they are facing is the farmers' low adaptation rate towards modern farming methods. "Some farmers still believe traditional methods of farming are better than the modern ones. For instance when mulching, some farmers cover the plants up to the stem (about four feet) instead of the recommended two feet from the ground," he notes.

John Karazaarwe, the Ntungamo district chairperson, attributes the farmers' success to the district agricultural extension workers efforts. He says the extension workers monitor and offer advice to farmers on the best practices.

He also says the groups formed by the farmers act as a bargaining chip. "There is competition among farmers' groups and the farmers themselves. This has encouraged many to produce more matooke so as to get more money."

Karazaarwe also notes that SACCOs have helped the farmers get money to access chemicals required to fight banana diseases.

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