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Fruitful at 80: Mama Tarus Avocado and pineapple orchard

For Rhoda Tarus, 80 years of age is just but a number. At her advanced age, she is a thriving pineapple and avocado farmer in Chesumei, Nandi County.

Although she is battling arthritis, the mother of 13 and a grandmother to many is still active in her farm, growing horticultural crops for commercial purposes. It is through the large-scale growing of pineapples and avocados for sale that has made residents of Kaptildil in Chesumei embrace horticultural farming other than the common tea and maize farming.

At her home, Rhoda is always busy, going around her farms ensuring that the plants are growing well and supervising her employees. Budding farmers are always at her doorstep seeking advice on farming and others buying seedlings to start their own farming ventures.

She despises laziness, and nothing bothers her more like an unkempt farm. It is for this reason that the grandmother chose to employ a farm manager and never a house help.

“I have been a farmer all my life. And it was beautiful working on the farm with my husband. But when I lost him five years ago, I braved the challenge and continued with our good work. I now have to rely on farmhands because as you see, arthritis has taken a toll on me,” she narrated.

Rhoda says that as a couple, she and her husband first majored in dairy and tea farming before she later ventured into horticulture.

“We would plant napier grass to feed our cows, and the tea bonuses helped us educate our children. The (children) are 13, and we thank God all got an education, and we never slept hungry,” explained Rhoda.

When her husband Timothy Tarus died in 2018, her third born child introduced her to avocado and pineapple farming.

“She told me that she would initiate this kind of farming so that I would not keep calling my children asking for upkeep money. Now, with the money I get from my produce, I can afford anything I want. I have built myself a permanent house and my grandchildren cannot lack school fees because their grandmother is hardworking,” said Rhoda.

In an acre of her land, Rhoda has planted pineapples, which she harvests and sells to the nearby Baraton University. She was the first farmer in her location to venture into pineapple farming, giving confidence to other farmers to embrace diversification in Agriculture.

Hers is a ready market and her harvest is always fully booked. She says that during the harvesting season she harvests the pineapples twice a week, selling large one for Sh100 and the others between Sh40 and Sh70.

Her eldest son, Simon Tuwei, helps her ferry and deliver the harvest at the institution and sells some at shops at Chepterit Centre.

Starting on Pineapple farming

Rhoda says that she began her pineapple farming using propagated suckers. She began by digging holes about one to two feet deep and spaced between three and five feet. She then mixed the soil with manure before planting the suckers and watering them.

She added that planting pineapples is an easy task since it does not require planting fertilizers or top dressing. Also, pests and diseases have not been trouble for her, as she has not witnessed any. She says her challenge has been dogs and porcupines that eat her produce sometimes.

“They only need tending. When they become crowded, I uproot some growing plants to allow the plants to grow well and healthy. I take the uprooted and plant them further, increasing my plantation. When they seem to be falling because of heavy fruits, you should use sticks to support them so that they do not lay on the ground and rot,” said the farmer.

She added that their roots do not like a lot of water and thrive well with just enough water.

Once planted, the crop takes one to two years before it can flower and is ready for harvesting.

“It requires patience at first, but once they start to produce fruits, you can harvest them often. I can get upto Sh6,000 per week when I sell them,” added the grandmother.

She further stated that she was clearing more land to expand her pineapple plantation.

Besides the pineapple farming, Rhoda also practices avocado farming in her one and a half acre piece of land. She also dedicated two acres of land to the tea plantation and keeps Friesian cows for milk production.

At the avocado farm, the grandmother jointly practices crop farming with her daughter, who lives in Nairobi. She majors on planting the Hass type of avocado, which are harvested and sold to Nandi cooperative society.