Busia Group Adopts Pawpaw Farming
By Bantaleo Muhindi and Noel Ochieng
When residents of nine Esikulu Sub location villages, Matayos Sub County, Busia County, chose representatives in the management committee of their dispensary, focus was on financial, human, material and resource management of the facility. Least did they envisage that they could venture into a separate income generating activity.
The Esikulu Self-Help Group has now ventured outside the management of the health facility and initiated a robust paw paw farming enterprise that has played a crucial role in galvanizing their socio-economic fortunes.
Formed in 2010 to represent Bukesa, Mundulusia, Khung’ungu A and B, Emaseno, Nakhomake, Buriang’I, Naskina and Esikulu villages , the group took off with nine members. They were chosen to represent their respective villages but 6 members were later recruited to widen the group and subsequently, allow for its registration.
The chairlady, Margaret Okunga says, “After being chosen our first mandate was to oversee construction of the dispensary in conjunction with doctors from a Rotary club,” she revealed. But after the building was over, the group found it necessary to look for ways of raising regular income so that they could financially cater for the dispensary and empower the local community.
She says they decided to approach the Busia Agricultural Officers who facilitated capacity building workshops where they were sensitized on various crops suitable for the region.
“We shared the information from the officers with our peers back home whose uptake was spontaneous,” she observed, noting that their first group undertook soya bean farming.
“The group first undertook the planting of soya beans which they harvested and distributed among themselves as a way of encouraging each one to plant the crop,” she says revealing that later they were convinced by their Secretary General, Ignatius Wabwire, to take to planting pawpaw.
This, says Mr. Wabwire, came into his mind after attending several agricultural seminars. He says that it was during the series of seminars that he knew that benefits of pawpaw were far much more than he had ever imagined and thought about.
“We were taught of the financial, nutritional and medicinal values of the pawpaw and we gained interest and after discussing it among ourselves we agreed to give it a try,” he said.
Besides bearing a fiber which is necessary as roughage, the pawpaw has vitamin A, C and E and contains small amount of calcium, iron, riboflavin, thiamine and niacin.
According American researcher, Robert Thompson, the fruit prevents asthma and heart attacks. Thompson, who is an administrator of certified Pedorthist and Master of Professional Studies, hospital and health services, adds that it acts as an antioxidant and contains flavonoids and carotene.
Research conducted over the past 30 years shows that Pawpaw also produces enzyme papain which eases digestion by breaking down proteins in the body. The research further reveals that eating pawpaw helps to alleviate pain caused by sport injuries and because of its high antioxidant content it prevents cholesterol oxidation and is also used to prevent occurrence of atherosclerosis, strokes, heart attacks and diabetes. Broadly, it boosts immune system as it also prevents the recurring of cold and flu.
Wambwire says that after being very successful with soya beans, the wife of one of the rotary doctors, Mrs. Helma Nigssen, promised to fund their pawpaw project. This motivated them to spend Sh.15, 000 annually on leased land allowing the owner to intercrop the pawpaw with vegetables so that he could also gain as he or she was a member of the community we were targeting.
To ensure that the pawpaw is chemical free, Wabwire says they use organic fertilizer which they purchase at a cost of Sh.30,000. Since the manure is prepared by the local residents, it is purchased from them “and as a result, they are empowered financially,” the secretary general explains.
He says that a single pawpaw tree produces between 15 and 20 fruits in a single harvest disclosing that they have just had a harvest of 10,000 kg from the single acre of land. This is expected to fetch them about Sh.500, 000.
He says the plant does not require close husbandry as it is free from most diseases. “Pawpaw leaves are very bitter and poisonous to insects and resist diseases and therefore nothing can affect it once it has grown,” he says adding that the farming is only threatened with vagaries of weather such as high temperatures and wind. He also blames hailstones for affecting the fruit.
Marketing of the fruit is a challenge that they have to meet as a group, he says. The large market in Busia town is virtually flooded by the giant size paw paws from the neighboring Uganda. The latter is sold cheaply. Thus, the low pricing and high supply attracts buyers from the town and its suburbs.
“We currently have more than we can consume domestically .We were targeting to sell to traders in Busia town but some traders from Uganda started bringing genetically grown pawpaw which are relatively larger than ours and therefore many traders prefer to go for the ones from Uganda because of their sizes,” he says. However they retail in local markets and in the villages at Sh.50 per fruit, h says.
Notwithstanding the challenges, says the chairlady, the group is determined to step up efforts to curb the spiraling poverty level and food insecurity.
She says that ripe pawpaw is ready food. As if to demonstrate what she is saying she readily reaches for two ripe paw-paws that she passes to us with a knife to slice. She says that each member of the group has at least 10 plants on their personal farms.
“We have plan to diversify into poultry, fish farming and rabbit keeping as we strive to ensure food security in our county,” she said.