Josephat Kiptoo holds two medium-sized butternuts in his hands, his face radiating a smile born of satisfaction.
The Kabarak University computer science graduate grows the fruits in Litein, Kericho County, on his parent’s land and has leased another, bringing his total acreage under the crop to two.
“I was introduced to butternuts in 2015 by a neighbour who told me they do very well in the region,” says Kiptoo, who started the business with Sh15,000.
He spent Sh10,000 on seeds and the rest in tilling and planting on the quarter-acre he started out with.
“The crops grew well with little input, giving me the psyche to continue,” says Kiptoo, whose butternuts average 4kg.
But even as the enthusiastic farmer grew the crop, he had one challenge. Residents were unfamiliar with the crop.
“I had to devise a method to educate them. On each of my butternuts, I attach stickers with QR codes to enable them get information on how to cook them,” he says.
The farmer begins by ploughing the land thoroughly for the soil to achieve a fine tilth to enable the crop to grow well. This is because its roots are weak.
“The seeds should be grown a metre apart, with the tip radical facing down for easier germination,” says the farmer, who grows the crop with compost manure only.
The crop takes between three and four months to mature. “Weed control is the most challenging because we do not spray to kill the weeds, so they grow in no time,” says Kiptoo, who is a full-time farmer.
To curb diseases and pests, he carries out crop rotation by planting peas and beans. In addition, he does roguing, which involves destroying affected plants. He also does mulching and uses wood-ash repellent to keep pests at bay.
The farmer sells his butternuts to individual customers and supermarkets such as Souk Bazaar and Giftmart in Bomet and in Nairobi for up to Sh100.
He has a ready market because he has been certified as an organic farmer by an agency called Encert.
“Butternuts grow well in Litein because the area has reliable rainfall, which enables farmers to grow the crop for up to four seasons in a year.”
According to him, before engaging in such a venture, one should first carry out a soil test to find out if the crops can thrive in their areas.
“Also identify the markets and if possible grow butternuts organically for you to get niche market and earn more,” adds the farmer.
According to him, butternuts are pest and disease-resistant, though they are affected by downy mildew, which attacks the leaves.
“The venture is profitable because butternuts are rarely affected by market fluctuation. My plan is to do value addition of the produce by making baby food, powdered butternut and soup, among others.”
Butternut is a warm season crop that thrives in temperatures between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius.
“The crop does well if grown using well-rotted manure and requires a soil pH of 6.0-6.5,” says agronomist Gordon Ochieng.
The crop can be intercropped with others such as maize and eggplants, but not potatoes.
“Potatoes should not be planted with crops such as butternuts, pumpkins, zucchini, crookneck, acorn and other squash plants, because they tend to stunt their growth,” says Ochieng.