Fruits offer Nyaga new source of life
An oasis full of an abundance of fruits stands out in the perennially dry Ciangera area of Mbeere North, Embu County.
The evergreen farm belongs to Robert Nyaga, a hardworking farmer, who has minted a fortune from cultivating mangoes pawpaws and oranges.
Nyaga is a beneficiary of a community project that supplies water to hundreds of farmers in the semi-arid region.
The project has made irrigation farming possible and its members are producing horticultural crops and fruits in plentiful. Nyaga started farming immediately after leaving secondary school in the early 1990s.
He had a capital of Sh1,000 borrowed from a relative coupled with a passion for farming. His beginning was filled with challenges as he had to draw water from a 100ft well in his father’s compound in Karurumo area to irrigate his tomato, capsicum and green maize crop.
So tiresome was the job that he at one season fell ill and could not haul the heavy buckets of water anymore and he watched his crops wither in the sun.
This did not dampen his spirits and after fits of successes and losses, he finally managed to raise enough capital to buy a water pump, lease land and expand his horticultural farming.
He grew maize and would rotate it with watermelons, capsicum, tomatoes, butternuts, and long chili for many years until he switched for more profitable crops. Eventually, he saved enough and in the year 2012 bought the 12-acre land in Ciangera area on the border between Embu and Tharaka-Nithi counties, where he has distinguished himself as a productive farmer.
Source of life
River Thuci separates the two counties and is a life-giving source of irrigation water for farmers living near it.
The river supplies water to the Green Paradise Community Water project which supports irrigation farming to some 750 households, among them Nyaga’s.
Through a donation of pipes from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP), farmers tapped water from River Thuci and channeled it downstream to their farms, a distance of 11 kilometres, according to the project chairman Nyaga Kidole.
Nyaga has 500 mango trees and 200 orange trees and keeps on increasing them gradually over the years. The crops are at the maturing stage and he has made a sale of mangoes this year. A sale of oranges is also in the offing. “I shifted from horticultural crops farming to fruits farming in that pawpaw, mangoes, and oranges do not require a lot of farm inputs such as spray chemicals thus lower production expenses. Fruits such as pawpaws and oranges do not suffer from wide price fluctuations,” he explains.
The farmer also reasoned that the fruit trees are long term and their tending is less demanding hence suitable for him as he grows older.
He has 1,000 pawpaw fruits of vega F1 and red royale varieties and is planning to experiment malkia variety the next planting season.
Nyaga uses hybrid seeds for all his crops. Hybrid seeds are tolerant to disease and early maturing.
He did not want to take short cuts. He sought advice from agricultural experts on the best source of planting materials and followed their advice. He traveled to Plantech Kenya Ltd in Naivasha and bought clean paw pawpaw seedlings at Sh40 each.
“Extension officers advised that I should observe a spacing of 6X6ft between one seedling to the next and dug holes measuring 1.5ftX1.5ft. I also applied a pail of manure in every hole,” explains Nyaga.
An acre accommodated 600 pawpaw trees and the cost of production came to about Sh100,000.
He adds that when grown under the optimum condition in this area, pawpaw takes about seven months to maturity and start producing.
“The highest harvest from a single pawpaw tree I have made was 30kgs. Grown under best conditions one tree can attain 30kgs. I’m confident I will reach there,” the farmer says gleaming in hope.
He picks an average of one tonne of pawpaw fruits every week that he sells at Sh50 to long-time brokers. The brokers supply the fruits to Nakuru and Naivasha.
He makes about Sh50,000 every week from the sale of pawpaws.
Just like other farmers in the region, Nyaga’s orchard has been affected by mealybug and spider mites’ pests.
Fruits affected by mealybugs are covered in a whitish powdery substance. The pest destroys by sucking the juice from pawpaw. Spider mite, which causes yellowing.
Nyaga says for affected pawpaw trees, even after spraying, the pest recurs in four days.
Farmers say controlling the pest is expensive as the agrochemicals do not come cheap.
Through farming, the farmer who is married and has two children has bought tens of acres of land, educated his children, build a decent house, among other developments.
Nyaga gives back to the community by mentoring and training budding and new farmers on the intricacies of agribusiness.
“Companies perch at my farm to teach farmers about dryland farming and agribusiness. I extend the same education to others,” he says.
In the course of the interview, he receives several phone calls from farmers enquiring on fertiliser and pesticide applications.
He appeals to the Embu County Government to empower farmers through starting up of value addition industries to raise the value of the fresh farm produce.