Cooperatives & Communities

Mbarara grape farmers call for agronomists as pests and diseases ravage farms

MBARARA- A total of over 200 grape farmers in Mbarara City have asked the government to provide them with qualified extension workers to give advice in the control of pests and diseases that keep ravaging farms leading to losses.

During an brief interview with Alex Asiimwe, the chairman Mbarara Grape Farmers Cooperative Society Limited, he said farmers in Nyakayojo Ward Mbarara City lack agronomists who have knowledge on grape farming.

Alex Asiimwe, chairman Mbarara Grape Farmers Cooperative Society Limited (Joshua Nahamya).

“Grapes are foreign crops and we don’t have agronomists who specialise in grape growing. We have found it a challenge when it comes to different diseases these fruits. We don’t know what kind of pesticides to use in fighting different diseases and pests,” Asiimwe said.

He adds that diseases and pests that have discouraged some farmers from most people from venturing into grape farming. “One of the reasons why we decided to form a cooperative was to work as a team in the fight against these diseases and pests that have continued to destroy our grapes on the farm,” he said.

Asiimwe said the cooperative’s farmers now use any available pesticides in trying to eliminate pests and diseases. He says farmers are in dire need of agronomists with extensive knowledge when it comes to grape farming so that losses are minimised.

Meanwhile, Jadress Mwesigye Kasoni, a single mother in Nyamatojo cell Nyakayojo ward and a member of Mbarara Grape Farmers Cooperative Society Limited embraced grape farming in 2004 and has managed to educate all her six children without facing school fees challenges.

“After my husband passed on in 2001, life became hard, but as a hardworking lady, I thought about growing grapesfive I started with 5 trees but now I have about 300 grape trees, where I get school fees for my children. I have also managed to buy two plots of land from growing grapes,” Kasoni said

Kasoni who also called for an agronomist said she earns Shs 12 million from grape farming. “I have an acre garden of grapes where I can get Shs 6 mln in a season. We have two seasons in a year, meaning that I earn Shs 12 mln,” she says.

Jadress Mwesigye Kasoni (2nd right) in her grape garden with  Mbarara City Woman MP Rita Atukwase Bwahika and other farmers (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

According to Kasoni, the extension workers they have in the area don’t know anything concerning grape farming. “Instead of advising us on what to do, they just come to learn from us. So basically we need an agronomist who can help us to boost  the growing of grapes in the region,” Kasoni said.

The most common diseases that wreck grape gardens in Nyakojo include; black rot, septoria leaf spot, grey mould among others.

Kasoni said normally the pests come at a tender age especially when the fruits have started to appear.

“At the start, we never experienced such diseases. However, around 2021, the leaves started getting brown while the fruits were rotting before ripening,” she said.

Mbarara City Woman Member of Parliament, Rita Atukwase Bwahika says she has approached central government to help get an agronomist who can assist grape farmers in her constituency.

“Farmers here [Mbarara City] need an agronomist who can help them to grow quality grapes. I am engaging the central government over this matter,” Bwahika said.

Bwahika adds that planting grapes is good for the protection of the environment and job creation.

“We have so many hills and we want to paint them green with grapes to protect the environment, create jobs and boost exports.  So an agronomist is needed to put professionalism,” she said

Bwahika adds that she will further engage Mbarara City leadership to see how to help the grape farmers. “We can even extend grape farming to other neighbouring districts if there is support,” she said.

She appealed to the ministry of agriculture to also introduce table grapes which earn farmers high income compared to grape wine.

“In Uganda we do not produce table grapes but at least the ministry of agriculture working with NAADS should introduce table grapes here. Already table grapes are sold at price four times higher than the cost of wine grapes,” Bwahika said.

“Currently a kilo of wine grapes costs Shs 3,000 while a kilo of table grapes is sold at Shs 12,000. We need to continue engaging the government so that at least in the next one year, we introduce table grapes in Uganda”.

Vincent Mugabi, Mbarara City agricultural officer agreed that they lack expertise on grape farming, thus challenging the government to sponsor training of agricultural officers on grape farming and disease management.

“The truth of the matter is we know less about grapes. It is a new crop on the market. We are pushing the Ministry of agriculture, especially the NAADs to take some agricultural officers either to South Africa or Italy to be equipped with basic knowledge and skills on grape farming,” Mugabi explained, adding that grapes are normally attacked by fungus, especially at the flowering stage.

Another farmer checking on her grape farm in Nyakayojo Ward Mbarara City (Photo by Joshua Nahamya).

He encouraged farmers to expand their grape farms so that they attract government attention. “Here in Mbarara, grape farmers are very few compared to those growing crops like bananas, maize,” Mugabi says.

Grape farming was introduced in Nyakayojo ward by the Christian missionaries. However, it has intensified for the last 10 years, attracting over 200 farmers in the villages of Ibaare, Nyamatojo, and Mabira among others.

Currently it has extended to districts of Bushenyi, Kashari, Ntungamo and Isingiro among others.

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