Japheth Ong’ayi, a farmer in Madunguni, near River Galana, in Malindi, has seen it all when it comes to watermelon farming.
The farmer had his crop washed away and destroyed by diseases pushing him into losses, but he still stands firm.
“I started watermelon farming in early 2016, but it did not work out well. I took a break and returned late that year,” he says.
Luck was on his side this time round as he harvested five tonnes from an acre, which boosted his morale.
Now the farmer grows the crop that matures faster on one acre. He alternates two varieties namely Maridadi F1, from Amiran, and Sukari F1, from Kenya Seed Company.
“For the one acre, I spend about Sh120,000 which goes to leasing the land, a tractor for ploughing and making 2m apart furrows and 500g of seeds. I, thereafter, dig holes at a space of 6cm apart and put manure and DAP fertiliser into the holes.”
He then places three seeds in the hole and covers it slightly with soil. “One should water each hole soon after planting and continue as the seeds germinate.”
The crop takes about 75 to 90 days to mature, depending on the variety planted. In a good season, Ong’ayi says an acre can produce between 20 and 25 tonnes.
“Insects such as melon flies, aphids, whiteflies and thrips have once attacked and devastated my crops. I also watch out against diseases such as watermelon mosaic virus, powdery mildew and leaf blight.”
His challenges include low prices, expensive labour and pests and diseases. “At times prices fall to as low as Sh8 per kilo.”
He advises those who would like to venture into melon farming to have patience and persistence. “Grow the plant continuously, not in seasons because of price fluctuations.”
Apart from watermelon farming, the farmer also grows vegetables and chilli. John Odhiambo, an agronomist, says that watermelons do well in hot areas. "The crop grows well in hot areas such as the coastal region as well as dry eastern plains. It doesn't do well in areas experiencing cold weather like in the highlands.''
The agronomist further says that a farmer ought to cultivate the land at least a month before planting the crop to allow good decomposition.