Watermelon farming making a fortune for Marigat farmer
By Kipkorir Kennedy
The weather in Marigat, Baringo County, is determinedly hot and dry. Thus, most farm crops are as a result sustained by irrigation. The most favourite, over the years is the watermelon, which continues to excite farmers here.
James Kesoile and his wife Petronila have been growing the Julie F1 watermelon for the last 6 years earning them a fortune due to its superior quality. They are among hundreds of locals farming watermelons in various places across Baringo County.
Mr. Kesoile and his wife have an acre plot at Rabai and another 2 acres at Kiserian under watermelons. The decision to venture into watermelon farming was greatly inspired by the crops unique qualities.
“Unlike maize and other crops, watermelon is not labour intensive, it requires relatively less water and is more profitable”, affirms Petronila. She says a farmer is always assured of good returns as the crop rarely fails.
Another factor has influenced the immense popularity of watermelon farming is the prompt payment due to ready market both in the locality and in other major towns like Nakuru and Nairobi.
An acre of Julie F1 watermelon can rake in Sh150,000 to 200, 000 per crop in three-months.
Petronila is full of praises for Julie F1 which came into the scene after its predecessor Sugar F1 watermelons.
“We started off by growing two acres and kept increasing and the most we have grown at once, so far, is four acres”, she reveals. Petronila’s love for Julie is not without cause, besides high return prospects. Julie has a hard skin which is resistant to bites of destructive flies.
On average, the cost of preparing an acre for growing of watermelons is Sh66,000 according to James. This is distributed as follows: Sh13, 000 for seeds, Shs 20,000 for fertilizers; Sh 30,000 for all the chemical application required. Weeding and harvesting costs Sh20,000.
“This translates to 22 per cent on the returns per acre,” he points out.
However, it is never easy to grow, manage and harvest watermelons. The preparation for planting begins with the tillage of land. Ridges are then made at a spacing of 2metres in between the ridges. This is meant to allow furrows between the ridges to hold water in readiness for planting 2 days after ridges are made. A day later, certified seeds are placed in dents made right along the damp point beneath the ridges.
Water has got to be pumped into the furrows by use of a generator powered pump. A single water application can take an upwards of 40litres of petrol per acre. Pest control poses another challenge as watermelons are predominantly affected by aphids and caterpillars. However, spraying with recommended chemicals puts to rest the fear of losing a whole crop to pest. The two qualities attributed to Julie F1 and which gives it an edge is its fast maturity rate and a hard skin cover which does not get easily pierced by flies. It takes between 60 to 65 days for a melon crop to be ready for harvesting. The higher the sunlight intensity the shorter the time the melons take to get ripe.
Petronila advises farmers to invest in farming as it pays well. “We can comfortably take our children to school, feed and clothe them all because of farming,” she says triumphantly. James says farming is his pay slip and that he has never regretted watermelons farming. During the last crop he was able to make Sh600,000 from 2.5 acres of watermelons something that still excites him. A kilo of melon is currently selling, at Sh25.
At the moment, the family has acquired two Ayrshire dairy cows which they bought from proceeds of the watermelons.
As the hot, dusty wind threatens to abort our interview; we take refuge behind an almost complete five- room- brick –structure, which the Kesoiles are currently building.
“This is going to be our home, says Petronila delightedly, “it has cost us Sh400,000.”
She hopes the new structure will be complete before end of the year. There is a temporary iron sheet structure standing adjacent to the brick house. Petronila informs us that they recently moved in to the new homestead after they bought the 1 acre plot for Kshs 90,000 a year ago.
All thanks to Julie F1.