Siaya farmers abandon maize after dismal yields, turn to fruit farming

Michael Ochieng at his farm in Aluru village, Omia-Malo sub-location in Rarieda sub-county. [Isaiah Gwengi, Standard]

For decades, thousands of farmers in Siaya County have been growing maize, beans, and sorghum, among other crops.

The region is yet to fully embrace mechanised irrigation, and most of the farmers rely on the rains, with the returns not promising.

It is against this backdrop that some farmers have now abandoned maize farming to venture into other crops.

One such farmer is Michael Ochieng, who hails from Aluru village, Omia-Malo Sub-location in Rarieda Sub-county.

Ochieng, who has switched to fruit farming after experiencing losses in maize farming, says his new venture requires less space, relatively affordable inputs and is less demanding with significant returns.

“Maize prices have gone down, yet the cost of production remains high. This makes it an unprofitable venture. That is why I opted for fruit farming,” he tells Smart Harvest.

Ochieng’s three-acre farm is home to tens of mangoes, avocadoes, pineapples, pawpaw and passion fruit.

Ochieng says the greatest challenge for farmers in the area is the lack of water for irrigation.

To overcome this challenge, he harvests water from the nearby stream and plans to drill a borehole.

Ochieng, who has at least 150 passion fruit plants, says middlemen are also a threat to fruit farmers in the county.

“A farmer should not always go to the market, but middlemen are now forcing us to do so because they take advantage of the poor farmers,” he says, adding that theft is also another challenge.

“Apart from pests and other diseases, human beings are the most challenging pest and can cripple a farmer by stealing the produce.”

Despite these setbacks, Ochieng says fruit farming has a lot of benefits and more farmers should embrace it.

“I have no formal employment, but the fruits enable me to feed my family and educate my children,” says Ochieng.

He does not use pesticides on his farm to protect bees, which help in pollinating the fruits.

“Without bees, my fruits will never flourish. I also have red worms, which I feed vegetables that have been grown organically and produce urine that I mix with water to make organic fertiliser,” he explains.

Apart from growing fruits, Ochieng also has a fruit tree nursery, where farmers buy seedlings for planting.

He sells the seedlings at between Sh150 and Sh300 and also offers training to farmers on fruit farming techniques.

With good management, Ochieng says, each passion fruit tree can produce between 50 and 100 fruits.

Currently, he sells one passion fruit at Sh10 or Sh80 per kilo. He earns more than Sh150,000 per year from his fruit farm.

“I would like to advise farmers to increase their knowledge by attending seminars and networking visits to farms to learn new ideas on improving yields,” he explains. 

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