Climate change, economic inequity and access to food have brought more attention to pawpaw and its resilient tree.
For Jacton Mwaniki, a farmer in Ishiara, Embu County, pawpaws have been a consistent source of income. The fruit naturally repels pests, disease and produces nutritious fruits that are creamy when ripe and taste like a blend of banana, pineapple and mango.
Mwaniki grows pawpaws and also produces seedlings for sale. He describes what it takes to start a pawpaw farm.
Paw paws thrive in warm areas (tropical or subtropical area) with adequate rainfall and a temperature range of 21 to 33 degrees Celsius.
“Frost can kill the plant, very cool and overcast weather delays fruit ripening and depresses fruit quality. Fruit tastes much better when grown during a warm sunny season,” says Mwaniki.
Paw paw grows best in light, well-drained soils rich in organic matter with soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. It can tolerate any kind of soil provided it is well-drained and not too dry. The roots are very sensitive to water logging and even short periods of flooding can kill the plants.
The common varieties in Kenya are Solo Sunrise, Calina IPB9, Red Royale and Malkia (classified as F1 paw paw). There is also indigenous paw paw which takes a little longer to produce fruits but requires minimal water.
Growing paw paws from seeds is the easiest, cheap and most successful method. Vegetative propagation of paw paw using tissue culture can result into superior plants with certain traits, like resistance to pathogen attack and production of high yields.
Transplanting and planting
Seedlings are transplanted four to five weeks after sowing when they have attained three to four leaves or 15 to 20cm height.
“While transplanting, careful handling is important to avoid disturbing the roots,” he said.
Prepare planting holes of 60cm by 60cm, three metres apart. Mix top soil with manure and DAP and fill the holes with the mixture. Plant three to four seedlings per hole for varieties with male and female flowers on different plants. Paw paw yields per acre vary slightly with variety.
Mwaniki has the F1, Red Royale and the indigenous varieties. In a one-acre land, he grows up to 250 fruit trees. An indigenous tree seedling costs Sh40 while the F1 and Red Royale go for Sh80.
“One paw paw plant will give three to four paw paws per week. If planting the F1 paw paw, you will need a constant supply of water, the local ones are drought resistant and can survive with minimal water, but cannot survive in water logged areas,” says Mwaniki.
He notes it is best to use organic manure as it does not compromise the quality.
Mwaniki says paw paw is very good friends with beans. He however did not recommend maize crop because its pollen is not suitable for pawpaw.
Non-indigenous ones are fast growing as they will take three to four months to start producing fruits, the indigenous ones take up to eight months to start producing. F1 produce double compared to the indigenous ones, says Mwaniki.
The appearance of traces of yellow on the fruit indicates that it is ready for harvesting. Since they are perishable, the fruits need to get to the market immediately.
Since paw paw is a fruit that is widely consumed, market is readily available. Mwaniki sells seedling as far as Kakamega and Kisumu.
He says every beginning of the rainy season he makes up to Sh400,000 from the seedlings. One kilo costs between Sh50 and Sh60.