Adow Mohamed Lugh, a resident of Mandera, hung up his journalistic boots sometime in 2012 after 30 years of reporting for the Kenya News Agency.
He then decided to try farming on his 63-acre piece of land on the slopes of Sala hills, Lafey sub-county. He cleared the bushes and installed water supply.
“I started with maize on eight acres and then added more acres of watermelons but I incurred losses because there was no good local market. I was forced to give out the maize to locals who keep donkeys,” he says.
Beaten, Lugh took a break from farming as he worked as the chief officer in-charge of public service at the county government from 2013 to 2017.
The idea of growing simsim (Sesame indicum) struck him last year when he met a farmer selling the produce at a local market.
“At that time I was back to growing melons and fodder for my cattle,” he says.
Armed with information on simsim, he bought 4kg of seeds from the local market and planted the crop on eight acres in May after doing further research online.
“I do not use any fertilisers because the soils are fertile. The crop grows pest-free because our harsh climate does not encourage pests.”
Simsim takes about four months to mature and can be planted either on a seedbed first before it is transplanted or through broadcasting.
It needs a spacing of 10cm within rows and 30cm between rows, according to Lugh, if transplanted.
The seeds are placed at a depth of 3cm because of their smaller size and covered loosely with soil.
“Simsim grows very fast; the first weeding is done at two weeks after germination since the crop is very sensitive to weed competition in early growing stages,” he says.
POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE SIMSIM
He pumps water into furrows on the farm from River Daua at least twice a week to irrigate the crops.
The crop is ready for harvest when the stem changes from green to yellow and then to red and the leaves begin to fall off.
Harvesting is done when 75 per cent of the fruit capsules have ripened. “One harvests by uprooting the whole plant or cutting stems using a knife. The stems are then tied into bundles, stalked upright, and placed in sacks,” says Lugh, who is readying to harvest.
One week after harvesting, thrashing is done followed by winnowing of the seeds, which should be stored with 10 per cent moisture content.
Bernard Ogutu, the Mandera agriculture director, says the county has a potential to produce simsim on large-scale but is hampered by lack of certified seeds.
“Seeds planted are stored locally, which affects production,” he says.
In 2017, the county harvested 88 metric tonnes of simsim, a feat Mr Ogutu says they are working to surpass.
“I already have market for my simsim where I am going to sell a kilo at Sh600 locally to a firm that is extracting oil and at Sh1,200 in Nairobi where my wife has found buyers,” he said.
Simsim has high nutritional value and can be heated or crushed to produce oil. “Simsim also acts as an appetiser when it is heated together with sugar. It is also mixed with other crops that include sorghum to make nutritious porridge flour for babies,” says Lugh, noting the produce is much-loved by the Muslim community.
Its tiny seeds that measure three to four millimetres long and two millimetres wide are heavy with natural oils, antioxidants, proteins, dietary fibres, vitamins and useful minerals such as calcium, potassium, zinc iron, phosphorus and magnesium, according to health experts.
Lugh believes there is huge potential for crop production through irrigation along the banks of River Daua, which flows for nine months in a year.