Nelly Bassily | July 18, 2011
Charles Kwebingira tends to his vegetables on a plot behind the petrol station on Jinja Road in Kampala, Uganda. Customers call to him through the wire fence. He puts down his hoe to sell them some vegetables. His urban farm stall is always full with greens, eggplants or tomatoes. A typical day for Mr. Kwebingira consists of digging and attending to customers. He says, “People like buying from me because I sell them fresh vegetables.”
When Mr. Kwebingira was laid off from the Uganda Railways Corporation, he did not walk away cursing. Instead, he approached the management and asked them to rent him railway land to grow vegetables.
He had grown crops on railway land while he was still employed, so he found it easy to ask for more. He says, “They charged me one million Uganda shillings for two years [about US$380] and I started working.” They did not charge him for the third year because they longer needed to pay for people to clear the land. Mr. Kwebingira now farms just less than a hectare and makes around 10,000 shillings per day, or nearly US$4.
Mr. Kwebingira has discovered advantages to urban farming. He does not have to pay to transport his produce to market. He does not have to involve middlemen because he sells directly to his customers. And he is not bothered by Kampala City Council because he sells his products from inside his fenced garden.
Another thing that keeps a smile on his face is the fact that he is not limited by seasons. He sells vegetables from his stall every day of the year. He plans carefully and plants in stages: as one egg plant is germinating, another is flowering and yet another is ready to harvest. He says, “There are even times when they are so many that they get wasted.”
Though everything appears blissful for this city farmer, Mr. Kwebingira faces challenges. Because his garden is in the city centre, it attracts many thieves. A private security guard from a nearby bank has been helping him patrol his garden, but the thieves keep coming. And if he apprehends them, it costs him money. He says, “Whenever I … took them to [the] police, policemen always asked me to feed them until the time they would be remanded to prison. And I had to pay 10,000 Ugandan shillings for their transportation to the prison.”
He also has to bargain with his customers. He explains, “Because customers see that I grow the vegetables myself, they always want me to sell them many things cheaply. But I always tell them that I have to sell at the market price because farm inputs are very high.”
But Mr. Kwebingira does not regret his urban farming venture. He says, “I get some money to use on a daily basis. I am paying school fees for my five children and I also bought a piece of land in Kabale which I hope to develop very soon.”
Mr. Kwebingira says he is weak these days, after a long time farming. But he shows little sign of slowing down. He has just finished digging a small dam to provide water for his crops. He has also started to use fertilizers. And he is currently preparing another garden on the other side of the railway line.