Kericho County is known for tea farming, and indeed many farmers carry out farming in the region as a cash crop.
Nevertheless, a young farmer is making a killing from a little known crop in the area. Josphat Kimutai, 25, has found happiness in a rarely grown plant in the area pomegranate plant (Punica granatum).
He grows the crop in Soliat Ward, Soin-Sigowet sub-county, and he makes a lot of money from the plants which he started planting when he was a primary school pupil. “I started farming pomegranate in 2005. I was in Class Five then.
I started with three seedlings and at that time, the fruit was less known,’’ he says, adding that the seedlings were bought by his father, after seeing the interest that his son had in farming, at such a tender age.
“It took four years for the plants to start bearing the fruits. It was the first time I saw the fruits; that was in the year 2009,’’ he says.
In 2009, they went on a school trip, and fortunately lucky, they stopped at a supermarket, and at the fruit section, he saw pomegranate fruits. The price of the fruits astonished him because they were being sold at very high prices and he developed much more interest.
After carrying out thorough research, he propagated 30 seedlings from the three trees and transferred them to an eighth of an acre piece of land that he was given by his father. The farmer reveals that he started without any capital.
He says that currently, a pomegranate seedling goes at a price between Sh200 and Sh350. Kimutai reveals that currently, he has more than 140 plants on the farm, which are on the half-acre farm.
According to him, the crop is still new in the area. “It needs hot areas with little rainfall, which is perfect here,’’ says Kimutai, who is also an agronomist.
The farmer says that the management of the crop on the farm is not tedious. He adds that pruning and watering once in a while during extreme dry spells are some of the management practices carried out on the farm.
He reveals that pomegranate plants are relatively free of pests and diseases, though the major problem that he has ever come across is cracking of the fruits when they ripen.
Apart from fruit cracking, another challenge that the farmer has experienced in securing a reliable market where he can sell many fruits in large quantities at once.
However, the farmer sells most of his produce via social media platforms such as Facebook. Apart from that, he adds that a local supermarket also purchases some of the fruits from him.
The farmer grows Dholka variety and also sells seedlings. According to him, a mature pomegranate tree produces over 100 fruits a year, and that a single fruit at the farm gate, sells at Sh80 to Sh150.
The farmer says that he has been educating folks in social media about the many health benefits of pomegranate fruits, and their response, so far, it has been positive.
For those intending to venture into pomegranate farming, the farmer urges them to be patient, since patience pays. He says the crop takes longer to produce fruits, but after that, a farmer will enjoy it.
The market is untapped, he says, and the crop can be intercropped with other crops. Due to high demand, the farmer intends to increase acreage from the current 1/2 an acre to two acres.
The fruits can be eaten raw, or they can be used to make juice, and they have medicinal values. “They are very rich in vitamin C and also carotene,’’ says Prof Richard Mulwa of Egerton University.
Prof Mulwa, who is a Horticulture and Biotechnology specialist, says that a farmer ought not to allow pomegranate fruits to overripe on the farm since they will begin to crack. He says that when the fruits start changing colour, the farmer should begin harvesting them.
The moment they are mature, the expert advises, the fruits should not be allowed to ripen on the farm, because of the sugar inside the fruits makes them pick up a lot of water, hence cracking.