Bernice Mwihaki, a pumpkin farmer from Kerugoya in Kirinyaga County farms, processes and sells the giant Israel variety pumpkins that weigh 20-30 kilogrammes.
The varieties mature after three months, she says, making it a crop of choice for any agri-entrepreneur.
“When I have a 30-kilo pumpkin and sell at a farmgate price of Sh20 per kilo, I will earn Sh600. But I also process into oil and our and make even more,” she says.
According to Mwihaki, the variety has an advantage over the others which take up to six months to mature and can only weigh between ten to fifteen kilograms when mature. She says apart from growing the pumpkins, she extracts oil from the seeds thus increasing her profit margin.
“It’s a family business because I do it with my husband. When we add value to the pumpkins, our earnings double,” she said.
Mwihaki who together with her husband owns three acres piece of land started growing pumpkins in 2014. This was after a retail shop they had started in the locality failed to do very well.
“We borrowed the pumpkin production idea from a farmer who used to produce the crop. Then, demand was high as many farmers had not picked it up yet, unlike today,” Mwihaki said.
“However, with time, many farmers have adopted the crop resulting in the market competition thus causing price and storage challenges,” she said.
In February 2016, they produced 11 tonnes and sold all the produce at Sh200, 000 after facing many problems looking for a market. Worse, they had no proper store to preserve the produce to bid time for prices to get better. Mwihaki said she thought of an alternative way to make other products from the crop to avoid the pressure of market competition.
“We were forced to think outside the box. This is when we started processing oil and our. In 2017, we sourced for a special machine that is used to crush dried pieces of pumpkins after the manual homemade machine proved to be inefficient, time and energy-consuming,” she said.
Before drying under the shade to protect the nutrients from the effects for the direct sunlight, Mwihaki cuts her pumpkins and removes the seeds. She then cuts the pumpkin into further smaller pieces to enable the machine crash them. From six tones of the crop, the farmer can get up to 1,000 kilos of pumpkin our while from the five kilos of the crop, she can get 250 ml of the pumpkin oil.
“Just in one day I can produce 10-20 bottles of 250 ml and 1,000 kilos of our which I pack and sell under my brand name Wilber Farm,” said Mwihaki.
She sells a 250 ml bottle of the oil at Sh500 and sells roasted pumpkin seeds at Sh400 per 100 grams. This has turned out to be one of their lucrative income-generating business and most of the time they run out of the raw materials.