Brian Agak, dressed in a grey overcoat, a matching shirt and a red pair of short, holds red and yellow capsicums in his hands before putting them in a crate.
It is harvesting time and the sunny weather is perfect for the activity for the farmer who grows the crop on quarter acre in Homa Bay near River Arujo.
During our visit, Agak was filling his second crate with the produce before he later delivered to traders at the local market.
“This has been my office since March,” says the 26-year-old, a 2016 Actuarial Science graduate from Moi University.
“Capsicum has given me a job. I grow them with several varieties of vegetables like capsicum, tomatoes, onions and cabbages,” says Agak, noting initially he searched for jobs in county offices and insurance companies, which offered him a sales work but he did not find it exciting.
To start, Agak leased the land at Sh5,000 a year and bought 50g of Super Bell variety which he first planted on a seedbed.
“Capsicum requires well drained loamy soil with an optimum pH of 5.0–6.0 and low salinity. The seeds take 12 to 21 days to germinate on the nursery bed,” he says.
He transplanted 2,500 seedlings to the quarter acre.
“I planted the seedlings 40cm apart between the rows and 30cm between plants.”
The wide spacing allows picking of the produce over a long period, while close spacing will give high yields in the short-term and better pollination in hot periods.
DO SOIL TESTING
“To get good yields, I top-dress with CAN fertiliser and do regular pruning. I also mulch and irrigate the seedlings,” says Agak, noting he got his capital from savings he made from contract jobs.
Fruits are ready for harvesting after 10–15 weeks and harvesting continuous for four to six months.
One knows they are ready when they are hard and shiny. Sometimes the fruits turn red or yellow.
“I had the first harvest in June. On the first week of harvest, the yield is usually low but it keeps increasing with time.
I pick only mature fruits for sale,” says Agak, noting he harvests weekly on Mondays, Wednesday and Sunday getting five to six crates during the period.
He sells the capsicum at between Sh5 and Sh10 each depending on the size to hotels, restaurants and major markets in Homa Bay County.
“In the first three months I made sales totalling Sh62,000. I could not believe it because I had not made such an amount of money after graduating,” he says.
Bacterial wilt is among the diseases he is struggling with. Some 300 plants were affected by the disease when he was starting as most of them withered and dried prematurely.
“That was a loss of about 20 crates in the entire harvesting season,” says the farmer.
Prof Matthew Dida of Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture says bacterial wilt is soil-borne and can be managed through solarisation.
“Before planting crops, it is advisable to do soil testing for analysis on the state of bacterial or fungal diseases. With solarisation, the farmer takes soil, covers it with clear polythene material under sun for some days. The sun heats the soil killing bacteria causing the wilt.”