When Anthony Kinoti bought 40 acres of farmland with rocks, people wondered what he would do with it.
But the information technology specialist had several crops in mind that he would plant on it.
He started with growing dragon fruits, 20,000 plants on several orchards.
But what has transformed the farm is cocoa trees. Two years ago, he bought cocoa seedlings from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) for an experiment.
“I am passionate about agriculture, and I like experimenting with crops. Knowing too well that the areas cocoa is grown in West Africa are within the tropics especially on the equator as we are, I had no doubt it would do well,” Mr Kinoti says during an interview at his farm in Imenti Central.
He bought 10 seedlings at Sh150 each and planted them. Two years later, they matured with pods, ready for harvest. He added 200 more seedlings that he grew on two acres.
Mr Kinoti has also planted cashew nuts, coconut and apples among other exotic trees.
“People ask me, ‘Why cocoa? Where are you going to sell it’? I tell them the market is here with us. We import tonnes of chocolate, yet it can easily be made in a cottage industry. We should get out of the mindset that cash crops are only meant for export. Processing is the way to go,” he says.
Cocoa trees are easy to take care of, he says, just like coffee. During the first two years, weeding is required. Trees that do not lose their leaves are trimmed after six months, to increase the amount of light. But the tree, which also likes shade, can be inter-cropped with coffee, he says.
Mr Kinoti grows the Forastero variety, although there are two more— the Criollo and trinitario (a cross between forastero and criollo) which he says is doing well. He also plans to establish a seedling nursery with assistance from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and Kalro. One tree produces about 50 kilos of cocoa beans per year and he projects that by the time the 200 trees start producing, he will harvest 6,000 kilos, sufficient for the cottage industry.
A kilo of dried cocoa beans fetches an average of Sh1,000 and when it makes chocolate it earns five times more, Mr Kinoti says, adding that people visiting his farm are enthusiastic about growing cocoa. “You can make your own chocolate at home, and we will not encourage farmers to take the commodity to the market as raw cocoa beans. We want to see more agro-processing,” he says.
“Butterfat is also used in cosmetics and pharmaceutical industry, but the amount used for these purposes is insignificant to that used in chocolate-making. On the international market, raw cocoa (dried cocoa seeds) is sought after. It is used to produce cocoa butter, chocolate, and cocoa powder.” He says that coffee societies can introduce the crop to farmers as it can do well in coffee-growing regions.
When ripe cocoa pods are harvested, they are cut open and the beans extracted. There is a mucus membrane that is removed to make cocoa liquor. Just like coffee, it can be roasted or ground into cocoa powder.
“We have done cocoa farming as part of climate change mitigation. The cocoa tree can be a very good agroforestry crop that not only provides fruit but also good ground cover and will mitigate climate change that we are currently witnessing,” he adds.
As for the dragon fruit, Mr Kinoti says the crop has huge potential and it can be introduced in arid areas, including Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, and Moyale since it does not need a lot of water.
“These are the innovations that we should come up with if we are serious in showing our people the right direction. I get calls from different parts of the world on whether I can supply tonnes of dragon fruits each week. But our local market is more than sufficient for most of our products. We just need to be innovative and add value,” he says.