Ugu, Telfairia occidentalis is an important vine vegetable commercially grown for its leaves and sometimes fruits in Africa. Ugu, 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. Ugu leaf extract mixed with milk have been found to improve red blood cells, eye-sight and general health conditions. Additionally, ugu seed is high in protein and iodine-rich oil (13%) hence it used in making soup and other important African delicacies.
Ugu 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. Ugu is now internationally recognised and highly demanded in Europe and USA hence its export has increased considerably. It is now a component of fresh and dry produces export and can be found in the African markets and stores in Europe and USA.
Presently, solar dryer technology is now giving food processors the opportunity to produce and package dry green ugu leaves for export and domestic consumption.
No doubt, Ugu farming can improve livelihood of whosoever is interested in starting the business. Agropreneurs, farmers, individuals or cooperatives can start ugu farming on one hectare or less. Ugwu cultivated for leaves could generate millions on 1 – 2 hectares every 2-3 months. Ugu cultivated for seeds is also profitable. Nevertheless, the following pointers are critical to success in ugu 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 model (i.e. Organic fresh ugu, Dry green ugu for export, Ugu seeds). Best production model for ugu is organic and integrated nutrient management system. Spend time in determining the right target markets for your produce.
- Good Soil: Ugu 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. Ugu needs adequate water supply via rain and/or irrigation to stimulate abundant foliage production. It is important 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 ugu farming especially during dry season.
- Good planting materials: This entails the seeds and seed dressers. Ugu is planted using seeds extracted from ugu 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, Beauveria, biofumigant or neem oil are effective organic seed dressers used in organic ugu farming. Conventional seed dresser can also be used. Treated seeds should be planted in the field or in the nursery immediately.
- Fertilization and Pest Control: Applying a combination of cured or decomposed manure or compost and urea or NPK as basal dressing have been found effective in getting optimum leaf yield in ugu farming. Subsequently, apply urea or NPK 20:10:10 after each harvest. Organic farming adopts only organic fertilizers such as farm yard manure, compost or Neem cake as basal dressing. In organic farming, after each harvest readily available source of nitrogenous liquid fertilizers such as fermented manure extract, vermicompost tea or fish amino acids are applied. Neem oil has been found effective and efficient in controlling insect pests and diseases of ugu. Never use conventional insecticides on ugu leaves.
- Weeding: Weeds harbour slug, snails and chewing insect pests that are menace to ugu. Weeds may also compete nutrients with ugu especially at early stage. Timely weed control is essential and usually done with hand, hoes or brush cutters as the case may be.
- Staking: It is done using wood or bamboo and/or twine. Since ugu is a creeping/climbing plant, it is important to build a good and strong stakes to get optimum fruit yield and prevent/reduce pests and diseases attack. Ugu planted for leaves will produce well without staking, however, higher leave yield with no/less pest attack have been recorded with staking.
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