Farmer abandons maize and turns her land into fruit basket
Viola Rogony borrowed the idea of growing pineapples at her farm in Ziwa, Uasin Gishu, from her sister, who has six acres in Chepkoiyo, Nandi County, where she plants the fruit.
Initially, her friends and relatives feared that Ms Rogony’s venture would fail. After all, they were used to planting maize and wheat in the region known as the country’s bread basket. But she was determined to try the idea since she had witnessed the success that her sister had enjoyed.
She started her pineapple farm in 2009 with 1,500 suckers that she bought from her sister at Sh20, each.
This was her capital as she did the rest of the work with the assistance of family members to cut production costs. Her sister would have given her the suckers but she wanted Mrs Rogony to appreciate that agriculture is a business.
Three years down the line, Mrs Rogony’s business venture is growing big. She has started realising the fruits of her persistence.
In less than two year, she started harvesting the crop and the market was overwhelming. She sells the pineapples at between Sh30 and Sh50 each, depending on the size.
Some customers go to her farm to buy from there and at the same time learn about the economic activity.
The demand was high and she has had to increase acreage to meet it.
“I will keep extending the size under the crop since I am generating my own suckers from the pineapples on the farm,” she said.
Mrs Rogony, who also cultivates maize, wheat, sunflowers, and a variety of vegetables further sells the suckers to farmers who have also seen the value of thinking beyond just maize and wheat.
She says production costs associated with pineapple -growing are less compared to maize and wheat.
The fruit also provides a good opportunity for a farmer to enrich the soil by inter-cropping with beans, groundnuts and vegetables.
With the unpredictable weather patterns, diversifying to other crops, she points out, is a decision any serious farmer won’t have regrets taking.
She says that pineapples are rarely affected by pests and diseases when grown under the right conditions and this has cut her spending on the crop considerably, leaving her with time to concentrate on the other crops.
“Besides applying fertilisers to maximise yields, one is required to spray the crop to enlarge and sweeten the fruits,” she said.
Kenya is a major exporter of horticultural crops to global markets, registering over $1.1 billion in 2011 from the trade, according to statistics from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).
Apart from pineapples, Kenya also exports mangoes, passion fruits, avocados, French beans and vegetables mainly to the European markets.
More farmers in the region diversified into other crops besides maize and wheat which are planted at different times of the year, especially after agricultural experts raised the red flag over deteriorating soil fertility due to mono-cropping.
Some farmers are now cultivating sunflower, passion fruits, pineapples and sorghum to supplement maize, which is the country’s staple crop.
Others have invested in a variety of vegetables to tap the ready market, especially in urban towns.
Whereas the passion fruits from the region have a ready market, especially in Uganda where they are exported to, pineapples and vegetables are in high demand especially by operators of hotels in towns.
Edible oil from the sunflower has a ready market, with companies like Bidco leading the pack whereas Kenya Breweries is keen on sorghum.
The brewing firm is one the companies likely to turn the fortunes of farmers from areas where sorghum thrives , as it expands its market share by producing beer from this crop as part of its efforts to meet the needs of people of various incomes levels.
Sorghum is cheaper compared to barley that the company has been relying on over the years to brew its brands.
On the other hand, Bidco oil refineries is promoting sunflower- growing in various parts of the country as this is their main raw material for the processing of edible oil.
And as Mrs Rogony looks back at where she has come from, she proudly says that its high time anyone practising agriculture viewed it as a commercial activity and accept challenges that she adds, can be transformed into strengths.
Eldoret West District Agriculture officer Joseph Cheboi says they are encouraging farmers to adopt green house agriculture to mitigate against the changing weather patterns especially during the dry seasons.