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How group is reaping big from snow peas exports

By Mercy Kahenda
Farmers sorting snow peas at a collection center at Mirangine, Nakuru County on February 28, 2020. (Caroline Chebet)

At Milangine village in Nyandarua County, farmers in headscarves and aprons are busy harvesting snow peas on their different farms.

They are part of Miraga Smart Cooperative that consists of 120 farmers, who came together in 2018 to produce snow peas for export.

While others are harvesting, others are packing the fresh produce taken to one of the member’s farm which acts as the collection centre. Here the produce is sorted and graded in readiness for export market.

Mary Kariuki, the group chairperson says many of the farmers were growing potatoes but ditched it because of poor returns.

“Many of us had a nasty experience with potatoes though it is a highly consumed produce. Look at all these farmers, their faces are bright because they know they are going to earn good proceeds from this crop. This produce sells like hot cake abroad,” says Kariuki.

They sell a kilo to the exporting company at Sh100. The cooperative has a capacity of producing 6 tonnes of snow peas a week, which is later exported.

Daniel Njuguna, 45, is among farmers who dropped potato farming for snow peas last year.

“Snow peas is a worthwhile venture. For example, with good farming practices, I earn Sh15,000 weekly, money that enables me pay school fees for my children,” he says.

So how was the idea born?

Ms Kariuki is the brain child behind the idea which she got after visiting friends in Kinangop who were earning a decent living from snow peas farming.

Knowing the power in numbers, when she returned back home, she mobilised locals whom she trained on snow peas farming with the help of agricultural experts.

“Having been frustrated by returns from potato, many of the farmers I approached embraced the idea with open arms and we hit the ground running,” she says.

Through her connections, they secured a contract with East African Growers, who export the produce to the United Kingdom and Denmark.

Not affected by Corona virus

Lucky for them, corona virus pandemic has not affected their exports.

“Other than a market, East African Growers Company also supplies us with seeds and extension services to ensure we meet the market standards,” she says.

For those interested, the group has plenty of lessons to share.

First, the crop thrives in cold areas like Limuru and Nyandarua with rich soils.

Before planting the seeds, farmers are expected to practice first tillage, followed by second tillage to make the soil fine, as the seed is panted directly to the soil.

For easier farm management practices, farmers are encouraged to grow the legume crops in rows. Snow peas seeds are sown at 2 to 3 centimetre deep with spacing of 7 to 10 centimetre and 60 to 70 centimetre rows.

After 8 to 10 days of planting, the crop germinates. Immediately after germination, it is sprayed with fungicide to keep cutworms at bay.

At two weeks, weeding is done, followed by first top dressing. Depending on rate of growth, farmers practise second weeding at four weeks followed by second top dressing that helps in flowering.

The plant is also tied with climbing frame, a concept called staking to manage its vigorous growth, facilitate harvesting, weeding and boost aeration.

“As the plants get larger and heavier, farmers stake it to keep it firm and ensure best flowering. Farmers can source timber or wire locally, for staking,” explains the farmer.

During dry weather, farmers are advised to practice mulching, as the crop requires moist soil to enhance flowering and pod development.

To prevent pests and diseases, cleanness at the farm is key.

After about 75 days, depending on weather patterns, pods are ready for harvesting, which is done for six continuous weeks.

“Harvesting of snow peas is done at the right time when the pod is about 7.5 to 10 centimetres long and about 2.5 centimetres. At the stage, the pods are still flat, with the seeds starting to swell.”

Stephen Maina, a 25-year-old grader ensures the produce is of high quality.

During grading, broken, oversize, curved and withered ponds are removed as they do not meet quality of the export market. Those with spots are also rejected. After grading, they are weighed and packaged in crates that guarantee proper ventilation. The crates are later collected by East African Growers officials ready for transportation.

Main challenge in production of the crop is ascochyta, common disease.

Agronomist voice

Agro chemicals association of Kenya Chairman Patrick Amuyunzu said farmers should use recommended fungicide to control ascochyta disease in snow peas production.

Best disease and pest control should be practiced by farmers to prevent ponds from curving, mostly caused by insect bites.

“Farmers should be keen on type of fungicides they use for efficiency,” said Mr Amuyunzu.

He adds that farmers should be trained on exportation requirement for quality produce.

“Each market has its own specification of a product that farmers should adhere to. The export market want quality and consistent produce, uniform shape and colour that can stay longer before ripening, before reaching its destination,” he said.

To avoid rejected produce, farmers are therefore expected to buy certified panting material including seedlings and farm inputs.

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