Watermelon market in Cereleno along Gulu-Kampala Highway. Photo by Caroline Ayugi
Until five years ago, fruit vendors in Acholi sub region were importing watermelon from other parts of Uganda. Back then, the fruit farmers has a false belief that watermelon couldn’t do well; leave alone growing in Acholi Sub region. Watermelon was commonly grown in Luwero, Kayunga, Mpigi, Mayuge, Mubende, Masindi and Bushenyi districts.
The fruits were rare in supermarkets and shops in Acholi. However, the tables have turned thanks to some farmers who decided to try out the fruit in 2015. The fruit is now all over the region, with some vendors selling it on the go. Others pack the watermelon and sell it as salads in supermarkets, markets and on the roadside.
Panaleo Anywar, a farmer in Labora village, says he started growing watermelon in 2017. Anywar used to grow onions, cabbages and tomatoes. He says after his first attempt at growing water melon, he decided to incorporate it among the crops grew and says he earns more from watermelon compared to all the other crops.
“I used to think watermelon is a foreign fruit that could only grow in Busoga and other parts of the country. But the first time I planted half an acre, I sold the smallest fruit at Shillings 5,000 and they were bough right from my garden,” he said.
Anywar says when he plants an acre of watermelon, he gets a net profit of Shillings 2 million. He reveals that after seeing the benefit of growing watermelon a number of farmers, have taken up watermelon growing as a business.
He now trains more than 50 watermelon farmers in his village. Lauben Kafeero, a farmer in Koro Pida in Gulu City, first planted his small garden of watermelon in 2015 when the weather was still stable, using just 90 seeds and it did wonders. Kafeero says since then, he realized that watermelon does well in the dry season, because at that time the insects that bring diseases to the fruits are very minimal.
Kafeero explains that watermelons are sensitive to rain drops as it facilitates the growth of fungal infections, which affect their quality. He says that those who earn well from water melon are those who irrigate it, because it helps them regulate the water supply to the fruits.
Although it costs one about Shillings 1.5 million to buy seeds and pesticides enough to plant an acre including other care for the fruits while still in the field, Kafeero says one can get a net profit of at least Shillings 9 million if it does well.
After years of growing watermelon, he has learned to plant in phases, throughout the year, because the care required will be minimal and helps prevent losses caused by overproduction.
There is watermelon scarcity now, which Kafeero says will go up to May and he expects to benefit from it, because the melons he just planted would have matured.
Kafeero says if the seeds are good, watermelon takes only a week to germinate, and three months to mature. However, a farmer needs to spray with pesticides regularly to kill pests such as leaf miner flies and flea beetles. Benson Odoki is another farmer who joined the watermelon growing business in 2019 in Nwoya district. He brings the watermelon to Cereleno Market, along Gulu Kampala Highway, which has the biggest watermelon market.
Odoki reveals that since the fruit is fairly new in the district, there are places that still don’t grow it to his advantage. “Most places still don’t have watermelon growers. One can plant and the fruits are all sold within three weeks. Sometimes, the villagers again come to town to buy from us,” Odoki said.
The price of watermelon in Gulu City ranges from Shillings 3,000-8,000. Just like other farmers, Odoki says the profits from growing watermelon “makes a farmer’s life easier”. Odoki, an accountant by profession, who started the business after the organization he worked for lost their source of funding, reveals that the few seasons he has engaged in watermelon business has made him conclude that if he had started growing it earlier, he “would be far.”
The Uganda Investment Authority, UIA, in its 2018 Generation and Up-dating of Business Ideas Report, listed growing and marketing of watermelons as one of the most profitable business ideas for both local and foreign investors interested in investing in the agriculture sector.
According to UIA’s calculations, a farmer can harvest 48,000 watermelons annually, giving them an estimated Shillings 27.4 million per year hence, making it a good employment source for the youth, since it has good market demand throughout the year.