The rolling hills of Cherangany provide a breath-taking view as one navigates a rough road to Chesubet village, some 70km from Kitale town.
Acres upon acres of maize crop stretch over yonder, with the cereal being the dominant food crop, but a youth group is seeking to change this as farming of the grain becomes a challenging task due to poor market and pests like Fall armyworms.
Tugumo Youth Group members are growing French beans for export.
Joshua Etiang’, the chairman, and other members, are on their one-acre farm harvesting, sorting and packing the produce when we arrive.
“This is our second season,” says Etiang’ as he leads other members in grading the harvest.
Tugumo has 25 members, with 14 of them women. Besides the acre, each of them grows the crop on small portions of land.
Upon harvest, they aggregate at a collection point, with the main season being between May and October.
During our visit, the group had collected 535kg of French beans, with the members harvesting twice a week, on Monday and Friday.
“We sell our produce to VegPro, a horticultural export company which has contracted us to grow the crop for export,” says Etiang’.
A kilo of French beans goes for Sh40, enabling the group to earn over Sh20,000 per harvest.
They started by getting training from Farm Africa on crop management, post-harvest handling and export market.
“We were trained in November 2016 and, thereafter, leased an acre by the stream for the French beans, planting 10kg seeds of Serengeti variety we got on loan from VegPro Kenya Ltd,” says Etiang’, noting the seeds totalled Sh9,500.
To grow the crop, one must plough and harrow the land before sowing directly the seeds into the beds. Farmyard manure is recommended to boost soil quality.
“Plant the seeds in single rows of 30cm by 15cm, a seed per hole or double rows of 60cm by 30cm,” explains Etiang’.
They apply DAP fertiliser before planting the seeds, followed with CAN for top-dressing after the plant germinates.
“Week two we spray against cut worms, weed and it is also advisable to apply foliar fertiliser to boost crop development,” he says.
USE OF CERTIFIED SEEDS
Routine scouting for pests and diseases is critical for better growth. Harvesting starts from 45 to 55 days and continues for about six weeks.
“We harvest two categories of beans, namely the extra fine pods and fine pods. Extra fine pods are very tender, seedless and free from defects while the fine pods have small seeds, a bit turgid and tender,” says Etiang’.
Emily Langat, a member of Tugumo, notes all of them were initially farming maize, but they have now realised French beans is more profitable.
“Harvesting starts after less than two months, which means we have two growing seasons in a year, but with maize, there is only one,” says Emily.
Leaf spot and bacterial blight diseases are their biggest challenges. Symptoms of leaf spot include red or brown spots on the leaves.
“Sometimes the leaves fall prematurely but this is corrected with fungicides such as Ridomil,” says Benard Korir, a member of Tugumo, which is one of the groups farming the crop in the region.
Other farmers are in villages in Uasin Gishu, Bungoma, Bomet, Nyamira, Murang’a, Nyeri and Kisii counties.
According to VegPro, to be contracted, one must have at least 0.2 acres. The contract is open to farmers of all kinds as long as one meets their requirements.
Prof Matthews Dida, a lecturer at Maseno University’s Department of Agriculture, says leaf spot is prevalent in the cool and wet regions.
“The plant shows ring-like spots on the leaves, drying of the leaf margin, yellowing and water-soaked pods,” says Prof Dida.
He says the disease can be controlled by use of certified seeds, destruction of affected plants and application of copper based fungicides.
He recommends that farmers do crop rotation between legumes and maize to curb the disease.