In the village of Maeta, 5km from Kehancha town in Kuria East, Migori County, is a farm that has changed the fortunes of a once distraught farmer.
When farmers here turned to maize and sweet potatoes as alternative crops to tobacco, Mr Peter Chacha, 39, decided to go against the grain.
He tried his hand at horticulture.
As we tour his five-acre farm our eyes are met with a luxuriant view of capsicum, kales, tomatoes, butternuts, squash and courgettes, crops that have been bringing in a steady supply of income.
But one crop has Chacha all excited: the courgette, also known as zucchini. According Chacha it is an instant money spinner.
From the two acres he has allocated it, Chacha harvests six bags of 100kg of fruit weekly.
“I harvest three times in a week getting two bags of the fruits per harvest. I sell a kilogramme of the fruits at Sh50 making an average of Sh30,000 in a week.
“This is my third week of harvesting,” says Chacha, a father of three.
He sells his fruits to a broker in Nairobi who then sells the fruits to the Export Promotion Council which exports the produce to countries such Germany and Britain.
“All I do is to harvest the crop, pack it and take it to Kehancha from where they it is transported by buses plying the Kehancha - Migori route to Nairobi.”
However, he claims that selling the produce through a broker does not allow him to reap maximum profits.
“The broker buys a kilogramme at Sh50 yet it should go for Sh100.”
In spite of this challenge, the courgette is still a major boost for Chacha because it brings in quick cash that he uses to run his farm.
“The cash helps me meet the cost of production in my farm. After this harvest I will expand the farm to three acres.”
Chacha learned of this lucrative crop from a farmer in Ewaso Nyiro in Narok, where the crop is mainly grown.
He invested Sh15,000 in the venture. “I used Sh10,000 to buy the certified seeds from a Kenya Seed Company outlet in Kisii and used Sh5,000 to prepare the land.” He says the crop costs less to plant and maintain.
He grows the F2 Ambassador Variety, which grows fast and yields attractive deep green cylindrical fruits.
Since the crop requires constant pollination for efficient flowering, the farmer has set up a bee hive nearby.
“I researched extensively and realised that the flowers need proper pollination and in order to produce high quality fruits, I put up a beehive in the bush near the farm,” says the farmer, who once worked as a field technician in Delamere farm in Naivasha.
The land must be well tilled before planting. “The soil should enable the roots to penetrate deep. I then plant three seeds in a 15cm hole with a spacing of three feet apart.
The plants are thinned after one week of germination. The crop takes 38 days to mature. I harvest after three days to avoid the fruits growing rather too big. The harvesting is done by gently cutting off the fruit from the stem.”
The farmer does not apply fertiliser during planting and tries to avoid application of pesticides as he maintains that this will destroy the quality of the fruits.
“Too much application of fertiliser and pesticides is harmful. Those who buy the fruits insist on purely organic fruits and that is why mine are liked by the buyers.”
FREE FROM CONTAMINANTS
Though the crop is rarely attacked by pests and diseases, Chacha ensures the farm is free of contaminants in order to ward of the dangerous pests such as melon flies and aphids which like to attack the crop.
He chose to grow the F1 Ambassador Variety because it is resistant to thedeadly powdery mildew disease that is characterised by whitish talcum-like powdery growth on upper leaf surface.
Courgettes are chiefly warm climate vegetables requiring an optimum temperature of 17C to 22C.The crop requires an optimum water supply of 800mm and does well in altitudes of between 500 and 2000 metres.
It needs a wide range of well drained light loam, manure or compost enriched soils, with pH of 5.5 -7.5.
The squash is propagated by seed at a rate of 6-8kg per Ha. Courgette is one of the very low calorie vegetables, providing only 17 calories per 100g. It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol.
Its peel is a good source of dietary fibre that helps reduce constipation and offers some protection against colon cancers. Kuria East Sub-County agricultural officer, Oloo Booker advises farmers to borrow a leaf from Chacha and embrace horticultural crops.
“A crop like courgette has the potential to do well here because of the well-drained soils, warm climate and well-distributed rainfall. Courgette gives a better deal as it matures fast and can be grown up to six seasons in a year. It also fetches better prices in the market,” says Oloo.