Setting out as a farmer, consider availability of water

Water plays a fundamental role in farming and anybody planning to set out as a farmer must consider availability of a reliable water source near the place where he or she intends to put up a farm. This is the mantra that Esther Munyao adopted when she relocated to her home area in Ivingoni, Makueni County in 2010 after retiring as an administrator, a job she had done for over 30 years.

Armed with some of the savings she had accumulated, she drilled a borehole and constructed several dams on her farm to collect and store water when it rains, for irrigating her crops. She is now supplying also some of the water to the neighboring two schools.

A look at her 50 acres farm are large swathes of mango trees weighed down by huge fruits. Big fruits of Tommy Atkins, apple, kent and ngowe varieties hang on branches, a few inches off the ground, setting an appealing spectacle.

“I chose mangos as I wanted a crop that could withstand all weather conditions. This fruit befits all weather conditions and can be grown in most parts of the country. Like any other venture, mango farming requires patience and time. A newly planted mango tree produces fruits from 3 to 5 years. Land preparation entails deep ploughing then harrowing and leveling into a gentle slope for ease of drainage. In dry zones like here; Ukambani, spacing varies from 10m by 10m but increases to 12m by 12m in areas with abundant rainfall and rich soils, “Esther stated.

There is a ready market for mango fruits in the area; they sell to traders who export to Europe as well as to Makueni mango and fruit processing plant which manufactures mango juice and pulp. The plant was constructed by Makueni County Government in one of the many flagship projects initiated by Governor Kivutha Kibwana with an aim of reducing post-harvest losses and increasing market competitiveness for local farmers.

To boost her mango yields, she ensures that every season she eradicate weeds to prevent pests and disease build up.

Munyao discourages unnecessary digging as it damages mango roots. She applies farm yard manure for optimum growth and fruiting. During pruning, she allows new shoots close to the main branches to grow so that the tree does not develop a broad top with fruits in the outer edges, which are prone to wind damage. “Mango trees require plenty of sunshine that is why I practice pruning regularly,” she said

Besides farming mangos, Esther has diversified to other fruits such as watermelons and tomatoes. To boost fruits production, Munyao practices drip irrigation where she has laid drip lines to ensure proper watering.

“Food production can only be attained if we have farmers diversify to various crops and livestock projects. This way one has several income and a fall back plan in case one venture does not do well,” she observes.

Agribusiness she notes, requires one to conduct proper research on type of farming, requirement, availability of market and cost of production. Record keeping is also key to monitor expenses and profits.

Her farm also acts as a training center for farmers, students and researchers. For this service, she charges a small fee for a day training session. The training equips individuals with best practices in fruit production from right seed selection, nursery preparation, transplanting and grafting.

She confirms that her net income has increased tremendously from what she used to earn while employed. It is able to sustain the farm in terms of cost of production, paying two employees whom she has employed on permanent basis as well as several casuals she contracts often.

Her advice to people: “If you have a piece of land or some savings, kindly lease a small land to begin farming as it pays well; or else I will continue soiling myself, bring my produce to your doorsteps and you will continue to pay me, for this ” she said jokingly.

For her future, she has set up a greenhouse where she is venturing into vegetable seedling propagation as propagated seedlings have huge demand in the market.

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