The little-known Kapsoen village, a few kilometres off the Eldoret-Iten road in Moiben, Uasin Gishu County, is currently dusty and hot.
As in many other parts of the country, it has not rained in the area for months, and, therefore, most farms are hosting scorched plants.
On the 50-acre Limpompo Farm, however, things are much different as avocado plants on the vast establishment are greener.
Micah Cheserem, the former chairman of the Commission on Revenue Allocation, attributes his lush crop to the intense sun.
“If it was not for the sun, my crops would not be this green,” says Cheserem, catching the Seeds of Gold team unawares because none of the farmers in the surrounding can attest to his statement.
But he explains. “I use solar power to pump water from my reservoirs into the farm to water the fruit trees that sit on 38 acres out of the 50. The solar panels also light the farm and power all my machines.”
His is a farm that runs purely on green energy, with the established farmer saying use of solar power has helped him save an average of Sh100,000 a month that would have gone on electricity bills.
The farm is dotted with hundreds of avocado trees of various sizes, with the farmer saying he spent over Sh2 million in April 2017 to start the venture after visiting the Murang’a-based Kakuzi Company, which has some 3,000 contracted farmers. The bulk of the cash went on the 114 solar panels on the farm and a computer system.
Part of the money went to grafted seedlings, which he bought at Sh150 a piece from a certified nursery located in Eldoret.
He started with 1,200 avocado seedlings and then last year in March, added 4,600 more.
“I have portioned the farm into six blocks. The trees I started with are now fruiting and I am harvesting them,” he offers, adding each fruit goes for an average of Sh6.
Each fruit tree has a drip line that releases drops of water to the plants. The lines are connected to three huge water tanks with a capacity of 170,000 cubic litres.
AUTOMATICALLY MONITOR AMOUNT OF WATER
The irrigation water in the tanks comes from four ponds sunk on his farm, which collect water during the rainy season. The water is then pumped to the storage tanks using the solar energy as well as a wind mill.
“If you want to engage in farming, you must have water all-round the year. The rain is the best source of irrigation water as long as it is harvested and stored,” observes Cheserem as he leads the Seeds of Gold team to houses where water is pumped from.
Atop the houses are solar panels. The expansive farm, which uses 340,000 litres of water daily, has 114 solar panels that tap direct power from the sun, which is then converted to alternate current to power machines.
“From the tanks, the water passes through smaller filter tanks where impurities are removed before it gets into the irrigation system, therefore, curbing the clogging of the drip lines,” says Cheserem, who acknowledges that the initial cost for solar installation may be high but the long-term gains are worth it.
The irrigation system on the farm that employs 20 workers is computerised, with each crop getting just as much water as it needs, says Cheserem, who also grows rose flowers for export and keeps dairy cows.
“Each section of the farm has different number of plants. The sensor is able to automatically monitor the amount of water required for each crop. In the next two years, I plan to connect the system to my smartphone and also introduce drone technology so that I’m able to monitor all activities on my farm,” adds the farmer.
Cheserem, who is also a former Central Bank governor, has planted the Hass, Pinkerton and Fuerte avocado varieties. The Hass variety constitutes 70 per cent of the fruit trees.
He said he has planted the Fuerte crop to help in the pollination of the Hass variety. The farm also boosts of 100 hives where he keeps bees to pollinate the crop.
“The Hass variety is preferred in the market. It takes six months to mature and turns dark from green when it is ripening,” says Cheserem.
To grow the seedlings, Noah Lagat, the farm manager, explains that one must make holes (3 by 2 feet), which are spaced 5 metres by 5 metres.
One plant requires 60kg of compost manure, which should be mixed with soil and left for a month before planting the grafted seedlings.
USE OF TECHNOLOGY IS KEY
“We also put about 40kg of compost manure on each tree every six months to support the growth of the crop. We also raise the ground where we plant the tree to prevent waterlogging,” says Lagat.
In between the avocado plants, they have intercropped lucerne and sweet potatoes (for dairy cows that provide the farm with compost manure) to improve soil fertility and conserve water in the soils.
Carol Mutua, a horticulture expert at Egerton University, says that an avocado tree produces one or two million flowers in a single flowering period although only about 200-300 fruits mature. Flowers have a single pistil with one carpel and one ovule.
“Hass avocado belongs to type A cultivar while Fuerte is type B, therefore, intercropping the two cultivars will increase the chances of pollination and fruit set. More fruits will thus be produced compared to when each variety is planted alone,” she says, adding growing type A tree and type B varieties increases the chances of pollination if insect pollinators are available.
Cheserem, an economist, observes that with the recent deal signed by President Uhuru Kenyatta between Kenya and China, there is a silver lining for avocado farmers.
Some of his challenges include pests like False Codling Moth and diseases such as black spot that affect the crop.
Cheserem notes that the use of technology is key in farming and he encourages young people to take food production since it is a worth investment with good returns.
“Farming must be modernised because you cannot use a jembe if you are farming for commercial purposes. Young people need to know that the future lies on the farms. The next millionaires will be those who engage in farming since everyone must eat.”
Understanding kinds of cultivars
Avocado cultivars are grouped into two classes on the basis of their flowering behaviour. For Class A, flowers open in the morning for 2-3 hours, functioning as females with a white stigma while the stamens remain closed.
The flowers close at approximately noon and reopen the following day during the afternoon hours for 3-4 hours, functioning then as males with the stigmas no longer functioning.
On the other hand, Class B flowers open in the afternoon as females, the stamens remain closed. These flowers close in the evening and reopen the next morning as males.