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Farmer finds financial freedom in rarely grown fruit

Friday June 17 2016

Mr Kisenga grows custard apples, avocadoes, mangoes and white sapote, among others in his small scale fruit farming venture.

Martin Kisenga displays custard apple fruits in his fruit farm in Makueni. Mr Kisenga grows custard apples, avocadoes, mangoes and white sapote, among others in his small scale fruit farming venture. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

BRIAN OKINDA
By BRIAN OKINDA
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A short drive from Salama shopping centre in Makueni County to Nunguni takes you uphill to Kithumba village.

The laidback village sits atop beautiful breath-taking hills, surrounded by undulating terrains that make the village picturesque.

Apart from its beautiful topography, Kithumba doesn’t appear to have much to offer. However, the village hosts many of the region’s agricultural activities, in particular, fruit farming.

Martin Kisenga, 74, is one of the many fruit farmers in the hamlet. Despite his relatively advanced age, the still youthful-looking man grows custard apples on part of his one acre.

His farm has about 15 Custard Apple; African Pride variety trees, that produce three to four sacks of the fruit when he harvests.

The custard apple fruit, a native to West Indies, Central America, Peru and Mexico, is white and fleshy when peeled, with seeds inside.

It is deemed to have numerous health benefits such as replenishing one’s energy, boosting immune system, contains anti-cancerous properties, improves dentition, brain alertness, vision and anti-anaemia properties.

The fruit, that tastes a lot like ripe mangoes, is also an essential ingredient in preparing salads and other sweet tasting savouries and desserts.

Kisenga sells the custard apples at Sh3,000 per 90kg sack to traders at Salama centre or Sh5 to Sh20 a fruit. And since he has numerous trees, planted at varied times, he gets a near-constant supply.

GRAFTING ASSURES GOOD QUALITY FRUITS

“I harvest after three to four months. Each tree offers an average of 50-70 fruits depending on the prevailing conditions that include birds feeding on the fruits,” says the farmer, noting he usually plants the fruits from seedlings but they can also be planted as seeds although they will not mature faster.

The fruit grows well in relatively dry settings, with moderately less humid conditions, whose temperatures range from 25 to 30 degrees centigrade. It also performs well on hill-slopes with moderate shallow soils as its roots are also quite shallow and not deep penetrating.

Away from custard apples, he has 35 grafted avocado trees of different varieties namely Fuerte, Hass, Zutano, Bacon and Reed. He sells the avocado fruits at Sh3,000 per sack, as well. Kisenga, besides growing fruits, grafts seedlings for sell, with each going for Sh10 per seedling.

After a good harvest, the septuagenarian, who started the farming in 1994 after quitting taxi business, says he makes about Sh50,000 from the sale of his fruits only, and additional money comes from seedlings.

Prof Mathews Dida, a plant breeder from Maseno University’s School of Agriculture, says grafting assures good quality fruits.

“Makueni is well-endowed in fruit farming due to the climatic conditions, especially for avocados, custard apples and mangoes, and farmers ought to take advantage of that.”