Dwarf pawpaws offer high income to a young farmer
Alex Kituku, 29, graduated from Egerton University with a Bachelor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology back in 2014. However, his heart, he says, was in farming. He decided to venture into production of dwarf pawpaws, which he reveals, mature within a short period and produces big fruits.
After graduating, Kituku, alias ‘Kituku wa Papaya’, started as a side hustle, before venturing fully into farming.
“I taught in Kirinyaga County a bit after graduation under BOM terms. I then worked with a pharmaceutical company in EPZ, Athi River. But my heart was in farming. I started as a side hustle when I was still a teacher and early this year, I moved into full-time agribusiness,’’ says Kituku, who specialises in propagation of varieties of hybrid pawpaws.
The farmer, who ventured into this kind of farming in 2015, carries out the activity in Cabanas, Mombasa Road, Nairobi, in a 5M by 20M greenhouse. Albeit he cannot give a specific figure of the amount he used as capital, Kituku says that he started small.
“I have specialised on nursery management so that I can supply farmers with quality and first-generation (F1) papaya seedlings. I started with pawpaws but have since extended to other fruit trees that do well in warm areas like grafted Pixie tangerines,’’ he reveals.
He says that the hybrid pawpaws that he propagates produce a lot of fruits and mature fast.
“Improved Solo sunrise pawpaws are small and weigh less like 300g. In a year, one could harvest 200 fruits from each plant.
Other varieties like the Dwarf Calina papaya (red-fleshed) whose fruits can weigh more than 1kg, one can harvest as much as 150 fruits from each plant in a year,’’ the farmer adds.
Kituku reveals that some factors affect the growth of the pawpaws which include; pawpaw variety, feeding and temperatures.
According to him, the Dwarf Calina papaya flowers in 2 months after transplanting and fruits are ready for harvest from the 6th month after transplanting; that is 8 months after transplanting. “The warmer the place, the faster the growth and maturity,’’ he adds.
He says that fruit tree nursery management is labour and knowledge-intensive. “Breaking papaya seed dormancy before sowing and regular watering is key. Ensure the water pH ranges between 6 to 7, else the seedlings get stunted growth.’’
The farmer says that since the seedlings are still weak, they ought to be protected from direct sunlight hence using a greenhouse or shade net structure.
“It takes about 3 months to get the seed into seedling ready for transplanting. 2-3 weeks before they are ready for transplanting, we move them to the open air for hardening. The potting soil has to be very carefully mixed. I mix soil, goat manure, sand and biochar in the ratio of 2:1: ½: ½. Sand ensures easy percolation of water while biochar helps in retention of the water within the plant pot,’’ says Kituku, adding that he prefers using organic manure instead of synthetic fertilisers.
The farmer reveals that sales depend on seasons, and many people plant their fruit trees at the onset of the rainy season – October and April.
“During this period, I can sell as much as 5,000 seedlings a season. Other farmers use irrigation for growing and are therefore able to plant at any time of the year. The off-season sales can be as high as 500 in a month,’’ he adds.
Kituku makes over Sh500,000 when he sells 5,000 pawpaw seedlings per season, during peak seasons, and as low as Sh50,000 during off-peak.
Besides, he can make additional money by selling pixie tangerines, which he sells at Sh250 each, meaning when he sells 100 seedlings at Sh250, he makes Sh25,000 per season. And when he sells 1,000 seedlings, he makes Sh250,000 per season.
He sells his seedlings at Sh100 each country-wide and uses social media as a tool for marketing, and is branded as Alex Kituku wa Papaya and ‘Papaya Empire’.
He propagates mainly Calina (IPB9) papaya and improved Solo sunrise varieties. Nevertheless, pests such as mealybugs, red spider mites and diseases like papaya ringspot virus and anthracnose have ever attacked his seedlings. However, in a bid to curb such challenges, he says farm hygiene and proper feeding of plants is very important. “A healthy plant is a resistant plant against pests and diseases.’’
Other challenges that the farmer, has ever come across include poor seed germination due to increased seed dormancy and lack of freshwater for raising the seedlings.
The farmer, who says that the venture is profitable, also sells tangerine pixie seedlings at Sh250 each.