Curiosity led retired army officer to yummy butternuts

Kenya: When you go to a bustling market, occasionally, there are always crops that capture your attention. This innocent curiosity is what drove Charles Chebusit, a retired army officer, from Kipreres village in Bomet County, to venture into butternut farming. Chebusit was attracted to the butternut squash fruit in one of the market stalls in Bomet town.

“I looked at this crop and I wondered what it was. It looked like a calabash but it was slightly smaller. I asked the seller about it and he convinced me to buy it. The seller also explained to me how it is cooked,” he says.

He went home and followed the instructions and made the dish. He liked the taste and decided to plant the seeds just for fun.

To his surprise,  the seeds grew into a flowered crop and after two months, it was producing fruit that matured at three months. Chebusit says this prompted him to try the crop on a larger scale.

“I did my research and inquired about certified seeds from the local agro-vet shops. I almost gave up when I was told that a kilo goes for Sh2,500. Fortunately, there are smaller packs that go for less,” he says.

He planted around an eighth of an acre and earned around Sh15,000 after giving out much of the fruit to curious neighbours.

Terrible mistake

“The neighbours liked it so much, some of them even stole some of the harvest. But I cannot blame them because they were hungry,” he says.

In 2013, he prepared an acre and bought 4kg seeds worth Sh10,000. However, he planted during the wrong season and suffered a Sh20,000 loss.

“I made a terrible mistake of dry-planting the butternuts and very few germinated. However, I learnt a lesson that one needs to wait for enough rain until the soil is wet enough before planting,” he says.

His third attempt with a kilo of seeds on an acre was his breakthrough moment. He recently harvested six tonnes of butternut fruits that he is selling at his shop in Bomet town.

“A small fruit sells at an average of Sh30 though smaller ones are sold for Sh20. The biggest goes for Sh50,” he says.

From the six tonnes, Chebusit expects to earn more than Sh150,000 from a crop that only took three months to grow.

This amount makes the venture worthwhile especially in a region that has unreliable rain.

Bomet East Sub-County Agriculture Officer Moses Too encourages farmers to plant butternut because of the plant’s ability to withstand dry spells and the short period it takes to mature.

“The crop requires just enough water to germinate and no much rain is needed after thus it can do well in the drier regions,” Too says.

Butternut can help mitigate food shortage in the dry areas while at the same time provide income to farmers.

The fruits can be stored for up to six months without spoiling.