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I made a fortune from pawpaws

By Joseph Muchiri
Farmer Robert Muriithi wa Kimani at his farm in Ciangera area of Mbeere North, Embu. [Joseph Muchiri, Standard]

?The eye-catching garden of pawpaws, mangoes and orange fruits that spread as far as the eye can see is a testimony of the hard work Robert Muriithi has invested in his farm.

The farmer has transformed what would otherwise be a dry, barren land into a productive gem that earns him about Sh50,000 every week from the sale of pawpaws alone.

His 12-acre farm is tucked in the semi-arid Ciangera area of Embu County near River Thuci, which separates Embu and Tharaka-Nithi. He bought the land in 2012 and started farming the same year.

Water from the all seasons river is a source of life to hundreds of farmers on its sides, among them Muriithi who practices irrigation farming.

He is a beneficiary of Green Paradise Community Water project that supplies irrigation water to 750 households.

Project chairman Nyaga Kidole says with a donation of pipes from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project, they are using water from River Thuci, and channel it downstream to their farms, a distance of 11 kilometres.

The project beneficiaries are spread over 12 square kilometres where each farmer is supposed to irrigate their farms in a way that does not deny their neighbour water.

Muriithi’s pawpaw plantation is a marvel to behold. He has 1,000 pawpaw fruits of vega F1 and red royale varieties. He is planning to experiment with malkia variety the next planting season.

From the farm proceeds, he has bought several parcels of land, educated his children, build a decent house among other developments.

Muriithi's experience dates back to 29 years ago when he cleared high school. He recalls that even while in school, he had a passion for farming.

He started farming with Sh1,000 he had borrowed from a relative on a small piece of land given to him by his parents.

“I would draw water from a 100ft well and haul with my hands on two jerricans up to the farm. It was an energy sapping toil, but you have to start somewhere,” says Muriithi.

He recalls days when he watched his tomato crop dry up because he was too tired of ferrying water from the source to his farm.

A neighbour was moved by Muriithi’s industriousness and allowed him to farm on his piece of land where delivering irrigation water was easier.

Muriithi saved every coin from his returns and later joined a chama where he saved Sh20,000 and used to buy a water pump.

He grew maize and would rotate it with watermelons, capsicum, tomatoes, butternuts, and long chili for many years until from the wisdom gained he settled on crops that he considers most profitable and long term.

“Eventually, I settled for pawpaw, mangoes, and oranges. They do not require a lot of farm inputs. This means the cost of production is lower. Moreover, they do not suffer from price fluctuations,” he says.

He says the cost of production of an acre of pawpaws which accommodates 600 trees is around Sh100,000.

“The tree takes about seven months to start producing and one tree can yield up to 30kgs of pawpaw,” he says.

He says whereas the crop could last up to four years, in his case they go for about two years due to the strong sunlight in the area.

In addition, he has planted sugarcane and boma rhodes grass for sale to livestock farmers.

Muriithi has 500 mango trees and 200 orange trees.

The farmer harvests an average of one tonne of pawpaw fruits every day that he sells at Sh50 per kilogramme. 

His greatest challenge has been the mealy bug and spider mites pests which have infested farms in Mt Kenya region and Muriithi’s orchard is no exception.

“Spider mite, which causes yellowing, has been a threat in this area. Even after spraying, it recurs in four days. Mealy bugs destroy by sucking the juice from pawpaw,” he says.

Even though farming at the foot of the biggest river in the area, Muriithi says water shortage affects production especially during dry spells.

“Early this year, we were required to do with irrigating once in a fortnight whereas my crops need watering every four days,” he says.  

jmuchiri@standardmedia.co.ke    

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