Farmers dump rice, find wealth in melons and tomatoes

Friday June 3 2016

Mary Ojulu sorts the tomatoes she grows in Ahero.

Mary Ojulu sorts the tomatoes she grows in Ahero. Many farmers have now moved out of the scheme and are growing watermelons, butternuts, paw paws, tomatoes and maize. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

ANGELA OKETCH
By ANGELA OKETCH
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Delayed payments and poor prices are some of the reasons that are making farmers at the Ahero Irrigation Scheme abandon rice for other crops.

A good number of farmers have now moved out of the scheme and are growing watermelons, butternuts, paw paws, tomatoes and maize.

Philip Otieno, who grew rice for several years at the scheme, turned to watermelons some three years ago.

Otieno cultivates the fruit that matures after about 90 days three times a year.

He uses some Sh70,000 to cultivate the fruits on his leased 10 acres and makes close to Sh500,000 in every harvest.

“From watermelon, I have been able to pay my children’s school fees, build a house and even start a business for my wife what I could not do when I was growing rice.”

To grow the melons, he sows the seeds in the field and they germinate after about a week. He says he does not plant the seeds in a seedbed because they end up weak when transplanted.

“Depending on the size of the melons, I sell each from Sh70 to Sh300 to women traders in Kisumu. Each acre gives me about Sh60,000.”

Nothing goes to waste, he sells the damaged watermelons to farmers to feed dairy cows since they help in milk production.

“I collect broken melons and sell at Sh2,000 per crate.”

According to animal health experts, watermelon can be fed fresh or dried and due to the high sugar content, they are palatable.

They also help in milk production but because of the acidity of fresh peels, one should not offer a lot to cows and other ruminants.

LIMITED STORAGE FACILITIES

Otieno says from rice, which is harvested once a year, he would get between Sh20,000 to Sh40, 000 when the harvest and prices were good.

“We would harvest our produce, take to the National Irrigation Board for storage and wait for money.

But in most cases due to limited storage facilities at the board, farmers would sell their produce to middlemen at even Sh70 a kilo.”

The only problem he has with melon is that when they are infested with diseases, it becomes expensive to treat them, says Otieno.

Lillian Odhiambo, a rice farmer from Kano Kakola who also decamped to other crops, says in the last one year, 20 of her friends have switched to various crops, including tomatoes.

Philip Otieno inspects a watermelon

Philip Otieno inspects a watermelon in his watermelon farm in Ahero. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Lilian, who grows melons, says most of them are yet to master the new weather patterns for proper timing to maximise on the rains.

About 500 metres from Lilian’s farm is a five-acre with tomatoes. The farm belongs to Chrispine Otieno.

“I am happy growing tomatoes. I started last year and in the first season, I harvested 100 crates which I sold at Sh4,000 each.

Tomatoes can give you Sh180,000 a month.”

He ventured into tomatoes because he was fed up with rice.

INCREASE RICE DEFICIT IN THE COUNTRY

“Growing rice had become too expensive for me. Middlemen were eating where they did not sow,” he says.

Chrispine supplies tomatoes to various traders in Ahero and Kisumu.

“I love farming but I had my issues with rice. Since the day I shifted to tomatoes, I have been a happy farmer,” he says.

National Irrigation Board senior manager for western region Joel Tanui says they are still committed to the production of rice.

“We cannot force farmers to plant rice but they have to understand that the main objective of the irrigation schemes is to produce rice during the planting season,” he says.

He notes that the board recognises the need for farmers to earn an extra income and has let them plant other crops during dry seasons.

“Those who are shifting are out-growers because all the farmers at the scheme must plant rice. It is mandatory that all farmers at the scheme plant rice because the schemes are designed for rice production.”

He notes the shifting will increase the rice deficit in the country and advised the farmers to seek advice before moving to other crops.

“The shifting will widen the gap yet the national government is trying to bridge it by intensifying and bringing in new technologies.”