After driving on a muddy road in Mitunguu, Meru County, we reach Rwompo village where farmer Shem Nyaga grows watermelons and bananas.
Nyaga, a deputy principal at Meru School, grows melons on two acres after investing Sh300,000 that went into preparation of land, building a water tank and installation of drip irrigation system.
To grow the crop, he planted the seeds first in a nursery, though this is optional, before transferring to the main farm.
A kilo of watermelon seeds go for about Sh23,000. The farmer used about three quarters of a kilo, which he bought at Sh17,000 when starting to grow the crop in August this year, having found market and learnt of the changes in the school calendar by the Ministry of Education, making December holiday over eight weeks.
“I planted in the nursery because watermelons take about two weeks to germinate before they are transplanted to the main field, where I used manure during planting. In nursery, one is assured of growth of seedlings unlike in open field,” he explained.
The fruit was ready for harvesting after two-and-half months, sometime last month.
“One knows the fruits are ripe by looking at the tip, which should have dry ends. I started harvesting early last month.
A kilo of watermelon goes at Sh30 and one watermelon can weigh up to 6kg,” said Nyaga, who sells the fruits to Kenya Defence Forces in Isiolo.
GROW CERTIFIED SEEDS
So far, he has harvested about 15 tonnes, with demand for the fruit rising when the weather is dry as it is now.
“I have employed three full time workers who I pay monthly to handle the watermelons and bananas. This is because I have to balance school and farm work but the holiday gave me enough time to attend to my agribusiness,” said the farmer, who started farming in 2014 by growing bananas.
Currently, the Kiswahili teacher is also harvesting his bananas. “I have an agreement with a buyer who comes regularly to check all those which are ready to ensure they do not rot. I sell a banana at Sh500 despite the size but it also depends with the demand in the market, where prices sometimes drop to Sh400.”
The ventures, but in particular, melons have not only helped him raise school fees for his three children, one who is in university, but also spend the two months he has been on holiday wisely.
“I must say that I have been busy on the farm throughout the holiday. I cannot regret of how I have used my time.”
Prof Paul Kimurto, a crops’ expert at Egerton University, explains that farmers need to plant melons during short rainy season or when there are no rains.
He adds that there must be no rain during harvesting to prevent destruction of fruits.
“Farmers should ensure they grow certified seeds because the type of seeds they plant determine whether they harvest or not.”