Sandra Nabasirye on Farming

In the 42 days of lockdown, Robert Kabushenga (RK) is taking off time to run a daily mentorship program called #40DayMentor hosted on his Twitter spaces. In this episode he hosts Sandra Nabasirye (SN) to talk on Farming

RK: Welcome to the 40 day mentor session. Today we have Sandra Nabasirye. She is known as the Slay Farmer. Who is this Nabasirye?   All that we see is a picture of you in tomatoes, is it how it has always been?

SN: I am a farmer from Luwero District. A teacher by training from Makerere University. A slay farmer.

RK: Earlier you told me your hustle did not begin with tomatoes, where was that?

SN: I was introduced to business by my mother. She used to run a shop away from her teaching job. She would ask me to go to the shop and sit in for her on weekends.

The real hustle started in the S6 long holiday. I have always wanted to have money. And I always wanted to work. At that time, I wanted to save for campus. I was working as a cashier at a casino at Crested Towers. I joined Makerere University thereafter.

RK: Did you continue working while at campus?

SN: No. It was a bit hard. I was admitted on an evening programme. The casino was also relocating and it was a bit hard.

RK: Was that for the whole of university?

SN: I did not work in the first semester of the university.  I was staying in Kazo Angola, Kawempe. I was convinced I was not meant for that life. So I decided to try out a business.

I asked a friend to give me UGX 100,000. I went to Owino and bought clothes.

RK: What kind of clothes?

SN: I bought women second hand clothes for UGX 80,000. I had noticed that girls at campus loved wearing good clothes. I wanted to be a hawker and a cool campus girl. The first day I made a profit of UGX 70,000. I still had stock. I kept on hawking clothes for the rest of the semester. Even my classmates got to know.

I was able to raise part of my tuition at that time. In second year, I joined student leadership. I was a speaker at the school of education.

RK: When you left campus, did you go into teaching? How did you end up selling tomatoes?

SN: I taught briefly. I started farming in 2019 but I got the idea in 2018. I gave birth to a child with a birth defect. At that time I was not working. She had a cleft pallet. She had to undergo surgery before she was one. I imagined my life away from her. I did not want to leave her with nay one. I decided to do something from home.

There was a lot I had to do for her. In my neighbourhood, we were having a shortage of vegetables and groceries. I wanted to grow vegetables and sell them to the neighbours. I discussed with my husband and he asked me what I wanted to sell tomatoes.

A friend visited with a copy of New Vision where there was a story of Teddy Wamboka a tomato farmer from Soroti. I did not have money. I wanted something to occupy me while I looked after my child.

My partner was not willing to give me money. He is an agriculturalist and he did not approve of farming. He did not give me the money and that was the motivation. We had to part ways. I wanted to prove him wrong.

I had no idea of growing tomatoes. I went out to see what tomato farmers were doing. I had no money and I had two children. I did not tell anyone apart from my brother, Allan. He linked me to his friend, Kamya Samuel who guided me on what to do.

RK: How did you get the land?

SN: I talked to my landlady. I asked her to allow me to do farming on her piece of unused land. She even went ahead to give me ideas. No hesitation or additional costs. That’s when I started

RK: How did it go?

SN: I got 30 boxes of tomatoes in the first harvest. I lost about 7 boxes. I sold 23 boxes at UGX 250,000 each.

RK: What happened to the 7 boxes?

SN: It was the very first harvest. The price was UGX 280,000 in the market. I got a water melon broker who lied that he could be of help. He had given me stolen boxes. They ganged up on me, calling me a thief. I lost all those boxes. That was the last time I went to the market with my produce. I started selling at a farm gate price.

RK: You told me you were able to deal with your daughter’s problem, tell us about that.

SN: She had both a cleft lip and a cleft pallet. She had her first surgery when I had just started farming and that is what pushed me to work harder. So far, she has had three surgeries.  She is fine.

RK: What did you do after all the success?

SN: I started training other farmers. I started charging for the trainings. The people who were coming were the serious famers. I had to partner with other farmers. I also later decided that I needed to improve. Being on social media gave me the idea of tapping into the social media market. I started the packaging and deliveries.

Comrade Otoa: If you look at the market right now, there are not many people trying to produce quality products, are you doing that? How many people are you trying to help? How are you making it worthwhile?

SN: When  I was going into the second production, I did not have all these other plans. I was just starting. I do trainings. When you tell them the stories everyone says they want to be like you. It takes a lot of hard work and commitment. It is not about the numbers, it is with the implementation. It is still a challenge getting committed people.

Sarah Kagingo: How are you dealing with the challenge of theft? Don’t people steal the tomatoes?

SN: I am a believer in God. I always pray the He protects my gardens. In addition I have made sure I have a good relationship with my neighbours. Every harvest, I give them some of the produce. I also have friendly work relationship with my staff. That way, they become my first security team.

Raymond Kugonza: Which business venture would be good to invest in for a starting youth with quick returns?

SN: There is no quick money in farming. That is only in betting. If you really want quick money, invest in high value vegetables like peppers, sukuma wiki and such crops. But still it takes about three months before you get the money.

Even the crops that take three months, they will need daily attention. It is hands on. You have to wake up early in the morning. Your garden should be the first thing you see in the morning and the last you see in the night. Floods and hailstorms can set you back to zero. Tomatoes do not need swampy areas. Learn about the conditions that are good for tomato growing.

RK: Farming is not one business that will give you quick money. At my farm, we have come to learn that between March and July, we lose close to 200 banana trees. Bananas take 9 months before you can harvest.

You said, do not come to farming looking for money, what do you mean by that?

SN: People come asking for numbers which is wrong. What you put in is what you get out. And that is not about the money, it is about the effort. Quality tomatoes will always find their way to the market. It is good to have the projections but you have to focus on the production.

You do not have to campaign for your produce. If the produce is good, the market will find you.

Eddie Mugabe: Any advice for someone who wants to start up poultry. I would like to venture into farming full time.

SN: Follow your heart. I didn’t get support from my friends. Also stay away from social media. Visit practical farmers. I don’t want bad energy. I shared photos on social media because I had a story to tell.

Benon King: I did passion fruits and they dried up. I turned to tomatoes, Sandra advised me on getting water but still struggle, and how can we do farming the right way?

SN: You should have the right variety of the crop you are going to grow. Visit farmers and learn from the field. Do not call. Be there in person. Telephone farming has cost many people. You should aspire to be better than the farmers you visit.

Tiggs: About a week ago, there was a tweet about how people lost money in agro business, what advice can you give people who have lost money?

SN: I treat farming as my main business. Some people who complain about farming chances are they tried out only once. You don’t need to be an expert to succeed at farming. It is the love. In fact at the start, it was just the need for survival.

RK: What size of land do you have now?

SN: I now have two. One is 80 decimals in Nabbingo and the second is an acre in Kawumu, Luwero.

I have been patient with my workers. I guess it comes from my experience of being a teacher. Understand your workers. Listen to them and be patient. I stay at the farm in Nabbingo.

Farming is both the quickest and hardest way of getting money. You have time with your family and also provide employment for others.

Start with the little you have. You can do backyard farming. Those small vegetables too can earn you an income. There are people with a lot of money who have failed too.

Comrade Otoa: Why do you call yourself a slay farmer?

When I was a starting I used to take photos. I documented my journey from the start. So one day my brother visited me at my garden and I asked him to take my photos. “Are you also like the slay queen?” He asked. “No, am a slay farmer.” I responded. That is how new name picked up.

Comrade Otoa: Have you thought of being a tomato teacher?

SN: My mother was so disappointed that I was a graduate working in garden. I told her I was going to teach but in a different way. I started teaching people in my garden. We recorded DVDs which sold out in 2019. We intend to document more farmers so that we can have a comprehensive coverage.

On finding market: Farming should also be market driven. You should not be looking for the market towards harvest.

Before I planted my tomatoes, I planned to sell in the neighbourhood. But I needed a bigger market. When they were starting to fruit, I went to Nabbingo market and talked to ladies in the market. When they came, the found good quality tomatoes and that made them stay.

Do not invest your money in an investment that you are not going to be part of. You would rather do something else.

Take one step at time. Start with what you have. Do not skip steps. Give yourself a chance to learn on the job. I am not where I started from. I now make deliveries. I now have partnerships. We now have dreams of processing and exporting.

On record keeping. It is very important. You need to record the time you last sprayed your tomatoes.  When I was starting, we used to watering cans. We used to water with 80 jerry cans a day. 40 jerry cans in the morning and 40 in the evening. To me it was not about the season. But I recorded down every step we took. I still do that to date.

RK: Thank you for spending these two evenings with us at #40DayMentor and for being the person you are.

SN: Thank your Robert for hosting me. So many people have reached out to me in the DM. To all the farmers, avoid bad energy and trust God.

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