- Title: Kenyan maize farmers seek juicier profits from watermelons.
- Date: 16th January 2017
- Summary: TRANS NZOIA, KENYA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF MAIZE FARM
- Embargoed: 30th January 2017 10:48
- Keywords: Farming agriculture staple foods maize watermelon fruits markets
- Location: TRANS NZOIA, KENYA
- City: TRANS NZOIA, KENYA
- Country: Kenya
- Topics: Economic Events
- Reuters ID: LVA0025ZBY8UV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Mark Mukopi, a farmer in Kenya's Trans Nzoia county, has been growing maize on his 14 acre farm for over 30 years but last year he decided to farm watermelons, which are growing in popularity in the region.
Watermelon takes three months to mature and is grown here only during the hot season when temperatures can go above 25 degrees centigrade because the fruit does not do well in cold climates.
It is also the season after the maize harvest when farms would usually remain fallow before the next planting season.
An acre of watermelon can fetch about 4,400 US dollars, compared to an acre of maize grown over the same period which brings in about 300 dollars.
"The harvest is good because as we talk irrespective of the poor weather, because the short rains have not come as expected we have had very little rain unlike what we anticipated initially so the yield has not been good as I wanted but for a start, I am satisfied because so far I have harvested close to a ton -- about 800 kilos," said Mukopi.
The farmer sells his melons to wholesalers at an average price of 1.50 US dollars for a watermelon weighing six kilograms.
Watermelons contain about 90 percent water and are rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as antioxidants among other health benefits.
At the main produce market, many fruit traders say they sell about 10 tones of the fruit per week to regular clients.
"Watermelons purify blood in your body and you feel healthy, that is why I like buying them. They boost blood in my body," said Mary Mabia, a customer.
"You find that you sell about 10 pineapples per day but with watermelon you can sell 100 to 150 kilos per day on retail. When I compare other fruits like pineapples, mangoes, I do not even see the point of selling mangoes or pineapples anymore. What makes my business do well is watermelon," said Peter Irungu, a trader.
Trans Nzoia is an agricultural region and forms a key part of the county's main bread basket.
Many farmers have traditionally grown Kenya's staple maize and wheat but bad weather and poor sales, caused by cheap imports have seen farmers look for alternatives.
Trans Nzoia county Agronomist, Kenneth Kagai says that while more farmers diversify, food security is not at risk.
"We are encouraging our farmers to practice a farming system whereby they can have maize as a first crop during the long rains and then after harvesting the maize, especially those farmers who have got water they are able to irrigate their farms and plant alternative crops like the watermelon. So quite a number of farmers have been able to plant water melon and as you can see from the way I have said, this one is not going to impact on food security because we are encouraging our farmers to use their farms effectively," said Kagai.
Mukopi is out making deliveries at a store in town. He plans to increase his crop in the next season because the returns have been very promising.
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