Policeman finds tidy sum in farming of butternuts

Samuel Seda (right) and workers harvest  butternuts in Nyadenda village, Homa Bay County. PHOTO | ELIZABETH OJINA | NMG
Samuel Seda (right) and workers harvest butternuts in Nyadenda village, Homa Bay County. PHOTO | ELIZABETH OJINA | NMG 

Despite the scorching sun Samuel Seda is busy at his farm in Homa Bay County when we visit — harvesting, sorting and loading butternut into a lorry with the help of his workers.

This is the second season that Mr Seda, an administration policeman stationed in Nairobi, is harvesting the butternuts from his five acre piece of land.

This particular harvest, which was destined for Nakuru, weighed 7,000 kilogrammes.

A week before our visit, he sold 8,200 kilogrammes of the crop whose popularity among farmers in the area is growing, making some like Mr Seda ditch popular crops like maize and beans.

“I planted butternut in March 2014 to see how it will do. The proceeds from this crop were more than what I used to earn from maize and beans. I harvested four tonnes and made Sh40,000,” Mr Seda said.

At first, he planted the butternuts on two acres of family land where he had been growing maize and beans for five years.

On average, these crops would earn him about Sh16,000 per season, a far cry from what he now banks having fully switched to growing butternuts.

Mr Seda says he did not undergo any formal training, relying on information available on the Internet to hone his skills. Butternuts take three months to mature. They do well in areas with plenty of sunlight, he says, making Homa Bay a conducive environment.

When gathering butternut for storage, careful handling is needed to avoid bruising, as damaged crops soon rot, he adds.

A year ago, he planted his second crop of the Atlas F1  variety on the five acres of land. He bought the land egged on by the success of the crop on the small family parcel.

In December, he harvested 10,000kg, earning Sh120,000 from the crop. In July this year he added another variety, known as Waltham, which he is currently harvesting.

“When I compare butternut to maize and beans, it is less tedious and cost effective. The harvested crop is hardy and can be left on the farm for one to two months provided it doesn’t come into contact with water,” says Mr Seda.

The 40-year-old farmer says he plants organic butternut due to thigh demand.

“I use organic manure. Buyers prefer organic butternut. Weeding, pruning, pest and disease control is key in butternut farming.”
The father of three says he now pays school fees for his children without straining.

Agribusiness has also helped him build a house for his family.

Despite the financial success, Mr Seda says access to markets remains his biggest challenge.

Previously, a middleman from Nairobi would buy the produce in large quantities from farmers in his locality.

The farm-gate price then was Sh15 per kilogramme. 

“I am selling the produce at a throw away price.  A kilogramme of grade one or grade two crop is bought at Sh6 and Sh4 per kilo respectively.
‘‘This is quite low but it is still enough for us to make a profit,” he says.

Lack of formal training also poses as challenge as many farmers are not knowledgeable in pest and disease control.