Ugwu, Telfairia occidentalis is an important vine vegetable commercially grown for its leaves and sometimes fruits in Africa. Ugwu, also called Fluted Pumpkin stands out among other leafy vegetables because of its drought-tolerance and perennial nature and that its leaves are rich in iron, potassium, calcium, dietary fibres, Vitamins A, B-group, C, E and important minerals essential to blood, bone and body maintenance. Additionally, fluted pumpkin seed is high in protein and iodine-rich oil (13%) hence it used in making soup and other important African delicacies.
Fluted pumpkin is the most widely consumed indigenous leafy vegetables in Nigeria, it is component of many delicacies in Africa, as a result, research efforts, small and large scale productions have increased in recent years. Ugwu is now internationally recognised and highly demanded in Europe and USA hence its export has increased considerably. It is now a component of fresh produces export and can be found in the African markets and stores in Europe and USA.
No doubt, Ugwu farming can improve livelihood of whosoever is interested in starting the business. Agropreneurs, farmers or entrepreneurs can start ugwu farming on one hectare or less. Fluted pumpkin harvested for leaves could generate 3,500 – 6,500 NGN Naira per square meter in 1-2 months. If planted on 1 hectare (10,000 square meters), you could generates millions in 1-2 months. Nevertheless, the following pointers are critical to success in ugwu farming;
- Target Markets: This entails your potential customers, off-takers and/or marketplace. Any agribusiness needs thorough analysis of target markets before going into production. Your target markets could be local/domestic markets, export/international markets, retailers, fresh vegetable stores, hotels, restaurants, African markets/stores, etc. The target markets you want to sell to will influence your production system and revenue. Best production system for ugwu is organic and integrated nutrient management system. Spend time in determining the right target markets for your produce.
- Good Soil: Ugwu needs a sand-loam soil which is rich in organic matter and has good drainage property and water retention capability. Water logged soil affects its growth and should be avoided, however wetland area could be used with a raised bed to improve drainage. If you cannot identify a good soil, you could meet with an experienced consultant, farmer or agronomist to help you out. Nevertheless, soil could also be improved using important soil amendments materials and technique if using the farmland will be of better advantage. Nearness to target markets is also key at this stage.
- Water Supply: Source of water is very important at this stage. Source of water could be natural precipitation, stream, well water and borehole. Ugwu needs adequate water supply via rain and/or irrigation to stimulate abundant foliage production. You may need to supplement water supply with irrigation during short/delay rainfall to get optimum leaf yield. Sprinkler, micro-spray tubes or drip irrigation system are all suitable for ugwu farming especially during dry season.
- Good planting materials: This entails the seeds and seed dressers. Ugwu is planted using seeds extract from ugwu pods/fruits. It is important to select matured, viable and quality seeds for planting. Ensure the seeds are treated against fungi and insects attack. Trichoderma, Pseudomonas and Neem oil are effective organic seed dressers. Conventional seed dresser can also be used. Treated seeds should be planted in the field or in the nursery with pointed end facing down, if you cannot identify the pointed end, allow the seeds to lie flat and cover with soil. Planting in the nursery allows for proper pre-management and good seedlings selection which ultimately influence leaf yield.
- Fertilization and Pest Control: Applying a combination of cured or decomposed manure or compost and urea/NPK have been found effective in getting optimum leaf yield in ugwu farming. Apply urea/NPK after each harvest. Organic growers should use only organic fertilizers such as farm yard manure, Neem Cake and liquid fertilizer. In organic farming, after each harvest readily available source of nutrients such as liquid fertilizers, fermented extract/tea, compost or decomposed manure should be applied. Fresh manure application should be avoided in any of the production system. Neem oil has been found effective and efficient in controlling insect pests and diseases of ugwu. Never use conventional insecticides.
- Weeding: Timely weed control is essential and usually done with hoes or brush cutters.
- Trellising: Trellising is done using wood or bamboo and twine. Since ugwu is a creeping plant, it is important to build a good and strong stakes to get optimum leaf and fruit yield and prevent/reduce pests and diseases attack.