Coffee farmhand strikes jackpot, becomes new king of pumpkins
Four years ago, Paul Munyaga was working as a farm-hand in his friend’s coffee farm in Gathage village, Gatundu South. He is a trained coffee farmer and has a vast knowledge of proper practice in coffee farming.
However, he didn’t work at the farm for long as his friend, who had employed him, passed on. Munyaga retreated back home in the same village to take care of his small coffee farm.
Munyaga was later called by another friend, former Ng’enda Ward MCA Michael Kuria, to work at his farm. This is where he learnt about pumpkins farming and how the practice was lucrative. Kuria who’s a renowned farmer in the region introduced Munyaga into pumpkins farming and even gave him some organic Giant pumpkin seeds, which he had brought from Israel after an Agricultural tour.
Munyaga spoke to Mt Kenya Star at his Waturu farm in Gathage village said that he threw his towel behind growing pumpkins even when he was not sure of where to market his produce.
Hit the jackpot
He had already learnt on how to properly grow the pumpkins for high yields, but little did he know that the pumpkins would turn around his fortunes in 2017 when he planted his first crops on his two-acre farm.
“My first harvest fetched me more than Sh200,000. I couldn’t believe it. a broker who saw some of the pumpkins I was selling at the Ngara market in Nairobi took them all and sold to some Chinese nationals at Sh50 per kilogram. This is when I realized my venture was a cash-cow,” Munyaga said.
Munyaga noted that he uprooted all coffee stems on his farm and replaced them with pumpkins. He said that he was tired of the hustles and meager pay he used to receive from his coffee after realizing how pumpkin farming was profitable.
Currently, he plants around 600 plants on his farm which produces between 15 and 20 tons of pumpkins. He noted that a single pumpkin weighs between 10 to 15 kilograms and goes for Sh300 to Sh700.
He noted that he recently pocketed a cool Sh300,000 after selling 15 tons of pumpkins to a trader who was contracted by the United Nations (UN) to produce them for the African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) troops in Somalia.
“He agreed to buy the pumpkins at Sh20 per kilogram and I sold him all that I had harvested. this farming is highly profitable with less production cost. All I need on the farm are two lorries of manure that goes for only Sh35,000 per lorry and water,’ he said.
“The prices for pumpkins range between Sh15 to sh50 and the demand is too high though production is very minimal. There’s always a ready market including selling them to locals. Again after harvesting, pumpkins can stay for up to five months without getting spoilt,” he added.
Keep to the rule book
Munyaga said that the secret behind improving and maintaining production as well as farming profitability is following the necessary procedures while planting the crops.
He noted that four elements including spacing, use of organic manure, sufficient water and seeds variety matters a lot in pumpkins growing. he also said that intercropping cuts short pumpkins production.
“The recommended spacing of the holes should be 15ft apart in all directions. This is because pumpkins have males and females. The males sprout first so that they can fertilize the female that gives us pumpkins. Failing to observe spacing will result in very low yields,” he said.
Munyaga added, “The holes should be dug 2ft x 2ftx 2ft apart in length and width. Then one should add one wheelbarrow or three buckets of manure to at least one bucket of top layer soil. Each hole is supposed to be planted three seedlings. This way, the seedlings will have sufficient manure to consume until the pumpkins are ready for harvesting,”
Munyaga who pumps water from a nearby river said that pumpkins produce well when they are adequately watered. He has already installed ponds on his farm to store water.
He said that he has been using Organic Israel Giant pumpkin seeds that he got from his MCA friend as well as certified seeds procured from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS).
The farmer also noted that his Waturu Farm has started producing its own seeds variety which has been tested and proven to be highly productive. He also uses organic folia to spray the pumpkins.
He said that the major challenge in pumpkins farming is a pest known as the melon fly that destroys the pumpkins by piercing them during early stages before they are ready.
“The pest is the major problem for any pumpkins farmer. The pests are destructive because they lower production but I control them by spraying the crops with organic pesticides,” he said.
Value addition skills
Munyaga said he plans to start value addition to his pumpkins. He’s already roasting and packaging pumpkins seeds which he sells to commuters plying the Kimbo to Kiganjo road.
“I have the knowledge of adding value to pumpkins like sun drying them and producing flour. All that’s hindering me is funds to put up the plant as well as getting clearance by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs). But I am looking for partnerships even with the Kiambu County Government so as to kick off value addition,’ he said.
“Pumpkins products are very essential to cancer patients and those ailing from diabetes and other lifestyle diseases. With such a plant here there’ll also be an assurance of employment opportunities for youths in this area. I believe I’ll soon get there,” he said.
Munyaga also divulged that he has been mobilizing locals in the village as well as training them on pumpkins farming so as to start a consolidated market and ensure that the supply meets the demand for the crop.
“I offer training for free to farmers willing to venture into pumpkins farming because I want more farmers to benefit. Again I usually reach out to the youth to convince them not to wait for white-collar jobs but instead get into farming because that’s where riches are,” Munyaga said.
He said that he has already leased another parcel of land in the village as he plans to expand his farming.