What you should know about commercial horticultural farming

By Olivia Chipeta Nkolokosa

Series 1; Basic principles of farming

The rainy season is almost done now in Malawi and the most igniting thought for the local smallholder farmer now is winter/dry season cropping. This is commonly known as going to the Dimba, a local dialect name for a wetland area. This is an area that mostly has clay to clay loamy soils associated with high moisture content. The area is mostly suitable for growing short duration crops especially of horticultural in nature.   So, most farmers both small and “big” triangulate over this decision. Now, the most provoking thought is; what are you planning to grow this coming winter and dry season?

This series will try to elaborate some common do’s and don’ts if you are considering of doing some farming this off rain season. It looks very promising when you want to embark on this journey; but when things being to happen on the ground, most first timers never take on this journey again, may be later they do. This is because we mostly start farming just because so and so made a fortune out of the crop we are considering to grow. The challenge is we do not know what processes our friend took to reach that far. More importantly, how the market treated the product he grew. Farming is an art but it is also a serious business. Just as we plan for that business, farming also needs planning. You just don’t wake up and say; I am going to grow tomatoes. Do you know how to grow tomato? I mean do you have practical experience of growing the crop such that you know its requirements and challenges?

Well, for a start, familiarize yourself with theory before you even begin to talk that friend so that you know what to ask. Internet should be your best friend, if you have chances of friends or colleagues who know much, use them or if you can, for a business, ask someone who is an expert to get you through the process whilst you also pay them for making your dream a reality. So the foremost important thing to start with; is not money rather knowledge…invest in knowledge both theoretically and practically so that you ask the right questions to the right people.

Then make a plan. This plan should ensure that you have the right economic muscle as well as operational muscle coupled with the aforementioned knowledge. The guidelines should centre around these 3 W’s and 1 How; what do I want to produce, Where do I want to produce, when do I want to produce and How do I produce. The second yet most relevant aspect is marketing. Consider the 4 P’s; price, product, promotion, and place. These simple questions will help you to decide whether your decision to invest in that dimba this season will be worth it or not. One notable thing though, is that Horticulture farming is one of the least explored yet high valuable. Every crop is worth investing but planning is crucial. See you in the next article.

Olivia Chipeta Nkolokosa holds a Bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from Bunda College of Agriculture, Malawi; MSc plant breeding from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. She enjoys writing and advisory services in her personal capacity.