After over three decades of toiling in the city, John Magaiwa, 68, retired from active work and went back to his home in Mabera village, Migori county.
His mission was to start a new life in the village and he explored several farming opportunities. Magaiwa had previously tried his hand at mixed farming on his vast piece of land but settled on pineapple farming after serious market research. He had first started with onions and tomatoes last year.
“After retiring, I chose to come home and do farming. I am enjoying it,” Magaiwa says.
The retired accountant says he did not do agriculture in school, but decided to settle on farming because ‘agriculture has rewards’.
For him, pineapple farming was unchartered waters since none of his neighbours had ventured into it. In his quest to get pineapple crowns that he could plant in a section of his land, the father of nine moved from different agro vets searching for pineapple suckers to no avail.
He was forced to go to Tanzania where he says he was given quality pineapple suckers that he could plant on 10 acres.
“It took me time to get the suckers and I had to go to Tanzania,” Magaiwa says.
He planted the pineapples in September last year and today, the fruits have decorated his farm.
Magaiwa bought 20 tippers of cow dung which he used as manure on the 10-acre portion where he planted pineapples.
Before planting, he ensured there was enough space, twice wider than the recommended and this would allow the pineapples to grow into the right size.
James Odongo who is an agronomist explains that for maximum production, a farmer needs to give a spacing of 30 cm between plants and 45 to 60 cm between rows.
He says a farmer doing this would be able to reap between 50 to 70 tonnes per acre.
“The crop can grow in all types of soil and in any part of the country,” Mr Odongo explains.
The plants grow well in an average rainfall of 500 mm annually.
Pineapples take 12 months to flower in normal environment and eight months in the coastal regions.
Magaiwa points out that the main challenge farmers face is a lack of enough space, but in his case, he has more than enough.
He ensures his land is tilled twice before planting the pineapple suckers.
Magaiwa who is not worried about the market for his pineapples expects to have his first harvest in November and December.
The retired accountant hopes to sell a single pineapple between Sh100 and Sh150.
In most cases, he has people who want to buy go directly to his farm.
He targets to have 20 acres under pineapple in the near future and establish a mini pineapple juice processor that would help him in value addition. Pineapple farming being a little thought about crop among farmers in the county, its market is readily available. Migori imports pineapples from Tanzania to meet the growing demand for the fruit, as the crop is not common within the county.
Though the county has a huge consumption on pineapples, farmers are yet to embrace the crop. According to data from the department of agriculture in Migori County, only 30 acres in the county are covered with pineapples. One acre produces 20 tonnes of pineapples annually in Migori County. Agriculture committee executive Lucas Mosenda says pineapples have the potential to grow in areas like Nyatike, Suna West, Kuria West and Kuria East Sub-Counties.
“Pineapples have a very good off-take in terms of market within the county. We are not able to satisfy the demand for pineapples within the county,” Mr Mosenda says.
In the financial year 2021/2022, the county government supported farmers with 15,000 planting materials for pineapples. According to Mosenda, one of the key challenges within the county is the availability of good suckers.
To help bridge the gap, the county government has placed a budget for additional planting materials that will be distributed later this year. If you expect good yields and quality materials then you have to get the right material. Pineapple farming being an area that is not over-exploited provides a good opportunity for farmers to cash in on the gap. The county government is working with them to expand that value chain.