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I’m happy after ditching maize for bananas

Saturday April 12 2014

Mr David Tiroto at his farm in Sugumerga Village, Bomet County. PHOTO | ANDREW MIBEI

Mr David Tiroto at his farm in Sugumerga Village, Bomet County. PHOTO | ANDREW MIBEI NATION MEDIA GROUP

As maize fortunes in Bomet County started to dwindle years ago due to diseases and erratic weather, some farmers turned to alternative crops.

The area, like others across the country, has experienced long spells of drought in the past and the maize necrotic disease, which ruined many maize growers.

Mr David Tiroto, 62, from Sugumerga Village in Chepalungu Constituency is among farmers who shifted from maize after making consistent losses.

“I was annoyed with maize because of the losses I made, which forced me to embrace other crops since I did not want to go back to it.”

The retiree is now planting tomatoes, sukuma wiki, onions, sweet potatoes and bananas on his five-acre farm.

“I started with tomatoes, sukuma wiki (kale) and later added onions, which I sell in Kericho,” says Tiroto, who also grows pumpkins and sweet potatoes.

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He is credited with introducing a new variety of sweet potato in his village that has been named after him.

Tiroto says he got the sweet potato seedlings from a dumpsite at Kericho market.

“I was at the market selling tomatoes and out of curiosity saw the crop at the dumpsite. I picked some tubers and planted them at my home. When they matured, I realised the sweet potatoes were huge.”

The crops did well and the farmer supplied seedlings to fellow villagers.

“Most people now eat sweet potatoes for lunch in my village, something that was not happening before,” he says.

Tiroto has a quarter of an acre under bananas that are inter-cropped with mangoes. “I got the banana seedlings from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. I first planted 60 seedlings in 2010. The bananas now earn me an average of Sh20,000 every season after I increased the stalks to 140.”

He grows Grand Naine and the Williams varieties. Besides surviving long dry spells, the two varieties have short strong trunks that need no propping and yield better.

“Many farmers are planting bananas as they have become a better substitute to maize,” the farmer says.

He has 46 mature mango trees that earn him over Sh100,000 each year in three seasons.

He also has an acre under trees, in which eucalyptus cover a ninth while cypress and cedar take up the rest.

He has already harvested the original fast-maturing Eucalyptus grandis crop and earned over Sh200,000.

Last year Tiroto was chosen to grow a variety of chickpea for dry areas that was developed by Egerton University researchers.

“The chickpea is doing well and it is helping solve perennial hunger problem by providing cheap protein.”

Tiroto also engages in dairy farming. He has three zero-grazed cows and will keep on cross-breeding the animals to improve production.

The farmer attributes his success to partnering with different organisations that include Friends of Mau Watershed, ActionAid, International Crop Research in Semi-Arid Dry Lands through Egerton University, Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers and Banana Growers Association of Kenya.  

“I do not think I will go back to maize farming. Most farmers have stuck with maize yet it is not doing well. They only need to try other crops and they will realise that they are underutilising their farms.”

MAIZE DISEASE

  • Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease has affected over 30,000 hectares of maize across the country.
  • So far, about 650,000 bags of maize valued at Sh2 billion have been lost to the disease.
  • The disease was traced to Longisa, Bomet.