As most residents of Marsabit County grapple with high costs of farm inputs during this planting season, farmer Diid Jarso is struggling with another problem that he never anticipated when he started growing melons sometime last year.
Jarso, his wife Fatuma Wario and son Forole Jarso, planted watermelons on the family farm on the outskirts of Marsabit town after growing maize and beans for many seasons.
“We first did a pilot early last year to see if watermelons will do well in this region and the results were fantastic,” says Jarso.
Late last year, the family planted the fruits on their entire 12-acre farm from which they harvested about 10 tonnes, with some of the fruits weighing up to 20kg. The problem, however, lies in finding market in the region where residents are unfamiliar with the fruits.
“We flooded Marsabit town with watermelons but people, particularly the natives, are not buying them. Some cannot even dare taste.”
Forole says he influenced his parents to grow the fruit after an agricultural extension officer informed him they can do well in Marsabit because of the warm weather.
“We bought four varieties of certified seeds worth about Sh40,000 after sourcing for them online. The varieties were Asali F1, Early Scarlet F1, Andaman 636 F1 and Crimson Sweet. We spent over Sh100,000 on seeds, land preparation, fertiliser, weeding and harvesting. The sales are yet to add to that.”
Their problem began when they harvested all the fruits one day.
“This created storage problems because there was no ready market. Most of the residents were afraid of eating the fruit because they have never seen it. We should have done proper market research before venturing into watermelon farming,” Forole concludes.
Jarso says that the Marsabit market could not absorb 10 tonnes of watermelon.
They had hoped to sell most of the produce in Isiolo and Meru but transporting the fruits turned out to be expensive due to poor roads.
“The buyers who came from Isiolo and Meru were happy with the size of the fruits but since they had come for them from far, they demanded a bonus of up to 800kg heaping on us more losses,” says Jarso, noting that they have been selling each fruit at a throw away price of Sh300. A good number of the fruits have gone bad.
“But I am glad that people have started eating watermelons in Marsabit. I had to give many free samples for people to get used to the fruits,” says Jarso.
He maintains that he will continue farming watermelons having been promised marketing support by Farm Concern.
Duba Nura, the area’s agricultural extension officer, says Marsabit has the potential to be a leading producer of watermelons due to the favourable weather.
“Watermelons do very well in warm climate. We will continue supporting farmers by linking them with markets to encourage production. If mixed cropping of watermelons can produce almost one tonne per acre, then we can produce much more in a pure stand.”
“The fact that the farmer relied on rainfall to get massive results means the potential for watermelon farming is very high in the area,” he adds.
He says the completion of the Isiolo-Marsabit Road is expected to boost the farming of the crop by lowering the cost of transport to other markets.
Disorders of the fruits include blossom-end rot, internal cracking, spongy end, white heart, hollow heart, and sunburn among others.