Retired professionals in Mumias who ventured into pawpaw have become a shining example to locals following the collapse of the sugar industry.
Mr Silas Lutomia, a former Kenya Forest Research Institute employee and retired teacher Francis Mubatsi have found a new lease of life in the fruit.
The two elderly men have introduced more than 2,000 farmers in Mumias West, Mumias East, Matungu and parts of Butere to pawpaw farming. They say the venture is more profitable than sugarcane farming which locals have long held to.
“I began growing pawpaw two years ago. I can’t compare what I’m making to what I used to get when growing sugarcane. I wish I had started early,” Mr Lutomia told Seeds Of Gold.
Pawpaw (Carica papaya) is a fruit tree that can easily fall when the winds are strong. It is widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical climates for its nutritive and medicinal value.
The two opted for Malkia F1 improved variety pawpaw whose seeds take three weeks to germinate and three months to reach a height of two feet when they start producing fruits. The indigenous variety germinates after 11 weeks and may take years to begin yielding fruits.
Mr Lutomia helps farmers prepare their lands. He advises them to dig a hole two feet deep while the space from one tree to another should be five feet.
After 21 days, the hole should be filled with manure and light soil. The seedlings are then planted a week after the manure is applied.
“Pawpaw is a popular fruit but has become rare. I was introduced to the venture by a friend who had been in the business for long. He told me it was well-paying and I have confirmed it,” Mr Lutomia said at his farm in Lureko village, Mumias Central ward.
He bought 100gms of improved Malkia F1 seeds at Sh5,400, which he put in a seedbed. Three weeks later, the seedlings were ready for transplanting. He planted 200 seedlings on a 50x100ft plot and harvested 800 kilogrammes of pawpaw.
“I sold a kilo at Sh200. In just four months, I had earned Sh160,000 from the plot. I now have more than 1,000 seedlings on a five-acre piece,” he said.
Mr Lutomia also supplies seedlings to farmers. His customers come from as far as Siaya, Nairobi, Kitui, Tanzania and Ghana.
Mr Mubatsi started growing papaya in 2018 after failed attempts at sugarcane and poultry farming. He has been to Nyamira for benchmarking and has 500 trees on a one-acre piece.
“We intend to expand pawpaw trade and make Kenya a key exporter of the fruit. There is a large market for papaya. Most fruits consumed locally are from Uganda,” Mr Mubatsi said.
He says the Kenya Papaya Products Industry in Sabatia, Vihiga County which began operations in August, has expanded the market for the fruit.
“The factory is a ready market and pays on time. It also gets fruits from Nyamira, Kitui and Siaya,” Mr Mubatsi said, adding that the factory pays Sh40 per kilo of fruit.
The retired teacher uses social media to market his fruits and has signed deals to supply the produce to dealers in South Africa, Spain and the US.
A part from the fruit, farmers can also sell pawpaw latex, which is used in the pharmaceutical industry. “We get a litre of latex from five kilos of fruits. The latex goes for Sh200 a litre,” he said. The factory managers say they expect to explore up to 25 products from the fruit.