By Pascal Mwandambo
Taita Taveta, Kenya: For Mr Richard Walicha, a 30-year-old peasant farmer at Kishamba village in Mwatate, Taita Taveta County, farming is the only source of livelihood he knows.
He grows maize, beans and pigeon peas on his three-acre farm, despite the area receiving low rainfall and human-wildlife conflicts being the norm. His farm hasn’t made him particularly wealthy, but its produce has been enough to subsist on.
Two years ago, however, Mr Walicha’s farming fortunes changed considerably after he started growing jackfruit, a fruit that is rare in his county.
“I got plant grafts from a friend in Uganda and immediately set out to try this rare mode of farming. Jackfruit takes about eight months to mature, especially the grafted type,” he said, adding that when there is adequate rainfall, the fruit’s yield improves considerably.
“The jackfruit is very nutritious and has numerous health benefits.”
Ripe jackfruit has a tangy, sweet taste and is a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. It has cancer-fighting nutrients, and its antioxidant properties and phytonutrients have been found to help cure ulcers and indigestion.
Walicha sells his fruits in Voi, Mwatate and Wundanyi towns.
On the day of this interview, he had sold four giant jackfruits, each weighing about 20 kilos, at Sh1,000 each.
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Walicha said most people treat his venture with curiosity, but were not starting to farm the fruit. Still, size of his produce has made the farmer rather famous, with most visitors to his farm wanting to catch a glimpse of the fruit that is so large, it has to be carried on one’s shoulders.
“Some people wonder what they can do with such huge fruits, and I keep telling them that families can make a good food supplement out of them,” said Walicha.
In African and Asian countries where jackfruit is common, it is cut into chunks and cooked like plantains.
It also makes custard, jelly, crisps and can be fermented to make alcohol. Its seeds can be eaten boiled or roasted and are rich in protein.
Walicha said he plans to expand his farm and grow more jackfruit, which he plans to sell in Mombasa to tourist hotels.
He also hopes to participate in the annual Mombasa Agricultural Show.
“I am sure many people will be amazed by the sheer size of this rare fruit.”