Nqobani Ndlovu | February 24, 2014
Maghawe Khumalo is a 45-year-old self-employed mechanic who lost his wife in 2012. Mr. Khumalo soon discovered that taking care of his four children by himself was difficult. He found it particularly hard to raise the money to pay for their education.
Mr. Khumalo says, “My late wife was a cross-border trader and our incomes could easily sustain us. Life changed after she passed away … I was struggling to pay school fees on time.”
In June 2013, he saw that some of his neighbours were supplementing their incomes by growing potatoes in sacks. Mr. Khumalo realized that some were making a killing, so decided to try it.
He has never looked back. Mr. Khumalo grows potatoes in the backyard of his house in Nketa, a densely populated suburb of Bulawayo.
He buys around 200 potato tubers, plus manure and fertilizer, for less than $100 US. He plants three potato tubers per 50-kilogram sack, and harvests between 18 and 20 kilos from each sack after only four months.
He sorts his wares, then sells ten kilos for $10 US at local markets. Mr. Khumalo adds proudly, “I have 100 bags of potatoes which will be ready for harvest in March, and I expect to realize over $1000 US with less than $100 of inputs.”
Memory Sarechera is a backyard sack potato grower in the Bulawayo suburb of Nkulumane. She says her husband’s monthly teaching salary of $450 US is a drop in the ocean compared to what she earns by selling potatoes.
Mrs. Sarechera gestures toward her yard, saying: “These are my 300 bags of potatoes that I will be harvesting in the next four weeks.… I expect to get close to $20 per bag and that translates to over $5000 US.”
Anglistone Sibanda is an agribusiness consultant. He agrees that sack potato farming is easy, provides good yields at low cost, and that growers can make huge profits if they follow the correct steps. He says: “It is not labour-intensive and one does not necessarily need to apply for a piece of land from the government … [It] also responds to high unemployment and food insecurities in Zimbabwe.”
Mr. Sibanda says potatoes must be planted in sacks which are porous and not coated with plastic. This type of sack allows water to drain through to the ground after watering. To ensure fertile soil, he advises growers to mix two and a half shovels of topsoil with two and a half shovels of manure. Growers can also mix in a small amount of a balanced chemical fertilizer if available.
Growers shovel the mixture into the sack before planting the tubers. As the plants grow, growers should continue to add the same mixture of soil and manure until the sack is almost full.
Mr. Sibanda says that using a high-potash fertilizer will increase yields, but that high-nitrogen fertilizers should be avoided because they delay crop maturity. He adds, “The bag has to be kept moist at all times, but it should not be saturated, as this might cause the tubers to rot.”
Life has changed for the sack growers of Bulawayo. Mr. Khumalo has big plans. “This year,” he says, “I want to buy a small second-hand van.”
Farm Radio International has produced several scripts on Urban agriculture, including two on sack farming. Follow this link to browse the archive: http://www.farmradio.org/script-categories/urban-agriculture/