Farmers turn barren land into profitable pineapple farms
It is already nine O’clock at Mong’oni village in Nyamira County.
Barare Nyang’au moves three steps to the hedge of his two-acre pineapple farm and smiles before making more strides into the garden.
He has planted about 7,000 pineapple suckers in the farm and already started harvesting the sweet fruits.
Without any rehearsal, Mr Barare sets straight into the day’s work: pruning the pineapples.
The father of four whistles his favourite tune as he removes suckers jutting from the stalks of already formed pineapple fruits.
He at the same time keeps checking on mulches he has put between lines of the pineapples.
At the hedge of the garden are stones and pepples heaped to form small separate mounds along the hedge.
These are the stones that he harvested from the farm before planting the fruits.
The soil in the garden is mainly fine sand mixed with weathered stones and gravel.
“This was a stony and barren ground. We used to think no other crop could grow here. But you can see how smart the pineapples are,” Barare says, bending to pluck a ripe one.
His neighbours occupying the entire Mong’oni and the neighbouring hills of Nyaibasa, Geteni and Chitago in Rigoma Division of Masaba North Subcounty are also growing pineapples.
According to them, the fruit is their newly found cash crop which has helped redeem them financially.
Initially, the hills that until recently were virgin land, used to be grazelands where indigenous grass that used to grow naturally was harvested to be used for thatching traditional houses.
While others cultivated the virgin lands to try tea, some tried maize, sorghum, finger millet and cassava but they all failed terribly.
This is because the soil in the area is highly drained and its sandy nature could not facilitate the growth of many of the crops they earlier tried.
Charles Onderi, one of the farmers says he had given up on his land after unsuccessfully trying to plant tea.
His land has been idle for more than 30 years.
“I had given up on it for many years. But when I saw my neighbours succeeding in pineapple farming, I started tilling my portion and planted them too,” Onderi says.
James Orori, a crops officer in Nyamira County, says pineapples are best suited in well-drained soils like the one in the village.
The expert says the crop’s ability to store water makes it adaptable in highly drained soils.
“Pineapples have a good ability to store water in their cells and their leaves too trap even dew which is utilised when dry spells strikes,” he says.
Orori says rainfall patterns in the region are good for pineapples.
The villagers have also been advised to improve the soil by using manure.
The village woke up to pineapple farming within the last five years and now, it is the main cash crop in the area.
Barare, for example, can harvest at least 100 pineapples from his 6,000 plants every week.
Each pineapple is sold at Sh40
This means that he pockets about Sh 4,000 every week from his farm.
The harvest, he says cannot compare with tea whose returns are relatively low.
“Farmers with the same acreage of tea earn even three times lower than what I get from these pineapples!” Barare exclaims.
Due to the increasing supply of the crop, its demand in the local market has started diminishing and that is the major challenge which the farmers say want to overcome.
Their only wish is to be assisted by the County Government or well-wishers to start value addition to the produce.
“We are many farmers producing more than 100 tonnes of pineapples a week. If we are enabled to start processing our fruits for a wider market, we will earn more.”
But before a well-wisher comes their way, they are grouping themselves to form a cooperative society. Theirs is to source for outside markets where they can sell their fruit, once the cooperative is actively in place. Peris Mong’are, the Agriculture Executive in the County, says they are in the process of putting up a multipurpose fruit industry to cater to farmers like Barare.