When Fredrick Chesang turned his grazing field into a horticulture production farm, his fellow villagers laughed at him because they were sure his crops would not survive the hot Kerio Valley heat. Another giant facing him was insecurity that stalk the region. But he triumphed against the odds. Five years down the line, Chesang’s farm is the envy of many as villagers throng to see how best to do horticulture farming in a hot and dry region.
“Kerio Valley is a harsh environment for crop farming. When I ventured into horticulture, many asked me where I will get water to nurture the plants and discouraged me but in my mind, I was determined to change the narrative. On a good season, I can make up to Sh1 million from this farm,” says Mr Chesang. Beneath the scenic Elgeyo escarpment tucked in the shrub land at Rokocho village in Keiyo South sub county, a few kilometers from the Kerio River lies Mr Chesang’s impressive four-acre farm lush with pawpaws, mangoes, tissue culture bananas, capsicum and eggplants among others. Mangoes and bananas are yet to be harvested since they were planted a year ago.
SO HOW DID HE START?
Armed with Sh10,000 from sale of goats, he started the project step by step. “I started farming with just 100 pawpaw trees and when I saw how well they thrive and the high demand, I gradually increased them to the current 600 plants. Tending the crops is tasking especially when they are young because they require a lot of water,” says the 70-year-old farmer. The fruits are evident. He adds: “Pawpaws grow well in the region and the first harvests are done within seven months. Under favourable conditions, the root system can penetrate to a depth of 2m, but most of the roots responsible for nutrient uptake are found in the top thus the soil should be well drained. Well adapted root system helps in absorbing water deep in the soil during dry season.”
DRIP IRRIGATION Water being a challenge, Chesang using funds from a loan drilled a borehole and installed solar panels to provide energy to pump water for drip irrigation. Pawpaws cannot withstand prolonged drought and thrive well in an even distributed annual rainfall of above 1000mm. Irrigation should be done in low rainfall regions, he explains. The crop does well in light, well drained soils with Ph 6-6.5 and rich in nutrients. Roots are very sensitive to water logging and thrive well in warm to hot regions of temperature range of 20-35 degrees centigrade. “The fruit is sweeter when grown during warm sunny season.” There are three groups of pawpaws distinguishable by their flowers (their primary sex) namely: male, female and hermaphrodite.
The male produces only pollen grains and never fruit. The female produces small, inedible fruits unless pollinated. The hermaphrodite can self-pollinate as its flowers contain both male stamens and female ovaries. At the farm the ‘male pawpaws’ are distinctive with just flowers and Chesang says he is uprooting them since they cannot bear fruits. He wants to plant the vegetative propagated pawpaws using tissue culture resulting in superior plants that are disease resistant, high yielding and are easy to maintain. “On a large scale I grow solo variety of pawpaws which produces small round sweet fruits with uniform size and shape. It is hermaphroditic and popular for both export and local market,” he discloses. This explains why buyers from as far as Nairobi troop to his farm to buy the fruits which has forced many other villagers to embrace growing them.
HARVEST EVERY TWO WEEKS Some of the trees have up to 32 fruits making the venture profitable and they are harvested every two weeks. “On a good season the trees I harvest up to 300 tonnes per year but since they are sold directly from the farm, exploitation is the order of the day since the fruits are sold at a minimum Sh10 each,” he says. Going forward, Chesang says there is need to establish cooperative movements to tame exploitation by middlemen and allow farmers to enjoy fruits of their labour. He challenges the county to invest heavily in agriculture to make it a viable option for youth. Bad roads and lack of knowledge on value addition opportunities is the main challenge which he says if addressed will open up Kerio Valley for agribusiness.
Additionally, there is also the issue of insecurity, but when their is relative calm, daring farmers like Chesang thrive. Despite the many odds against him, the farmer is making it. With the proceeds, he has educated his children and bought lands in Eldoret and Iten towns where he plans to establish a processing plant to add value to the fruits.
First Published BY The Standard