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Lemons squeezed bitterness out of my life, Wajir farmer

Adan Hassan at his lemon farm in Sunlight village, Wajir County. [PHOTO: MERCY KAHENDA]

WAJIR: The road is dusty, the sun blazing and there is no sign of life as we drive on. The only plantation along the road are dry shrubs. There is no sign of green vegetation or healthy animals along the way.

After that stretch of desert, we arrive at a small ‘Garden of Eden’. Welcome to Adan Hassan, lemon orchard at Sunlight village, Wajir County, five kilometres from Wajir town.

Smart Harvest team finds Hassan busy as a bee pruning his lemon trees. The orchard located on a one-acre farm provides a cool breeze in the arid area.

The farm produces tonnes of lemons that the farmer sells in the local market and neigbouring towns.

Question that comes to mind when one visits this oasis in a desert is, how does one manage such a lush farm in a desert?

GREEN WONDER

“No farming can take place here but with a few smart strategies, I am able to grow these lemon trees. I practise irrigation to get greener vegetation,” says Mr Hassan, a father of two.

The cook at Save the Children in Wajir, started the lemon project in 2008 after his paw paw trees failed following harsh climatic conditions.

The farmer says he was inspired to venture into lemon farming when he saw demand among expectant mothers.

“I was always disturbed when I saw pregnant women going from farm to farm in search of lemons. I noticed that for some reason, many women craved for lemons when they are expectant to beat the nausea. The women had to endure suffering because there was no lemons around. Can you imagine there was no lemon farmer in the area. I decided to take a risk to serve the community,” he says.

Before he embarked on the initiative, he did thorough research. He says he visited Nairobi, Kericho, Kisumu, Mandera and Garissa counties where the fruit tree was doing well to learn best practice.

From his fact-finding missions, he discovered that farmers were making profits and the production costs were manageable.

When he was ready to start, the biggest challenge was getting seedlings, he says. At the same time, there were no farmers to mentor him and show him tricks of the game.

Hassan walked into various agricultural research offices but could not access information on production of the fruit. So how did he finally get the seeds?

DREAM COME TRUE

He says one day, while at Wajir town, he bought a single fruit at Sh10 for his children.

After consuming the fruit, the farmer extracted seeds, dried them then planted them in polythene sachets on trial and error basis.

“I bought one fruit that had approximately 20 small seeds. I dried the seeds and planted. Only 11 germinated to transplanting stage. I was happy and that is how the story of the orchard started,” he recalls.

To ensure the seeds germinated, Hassan used to irrigate the seedbed thrice a day and in one and half years, the seedlings were ready for transplanting. Before transplanting the trees in the orchard, he constructed a well nearby to enable him water the crops.

Using his savings, he also bought a generator at Sh35,000 which he used to pump water to the farm.

When he was transplanting the trees, he planted them approximately 6 metres apart.

MENTORS YOUTH

After four years of planting, the plants started to flower and few months later he was reaping fruits of his labour. Now the farm has 200 lemon trees.

“It was an exciting experience seeing the trees grow on my farm. I am from a pastoralist family who kept camels, goats and sheep. Therefore having grown crops and they blossomed was a big achievement for me. This was a dream come true,” says the farmer.

Each tree, he says, produces approximately 1,000 fruits with frequent watering. He supplies the fruit to Soko Mjinga Market in Wajir with a piece going for Sh10.

He uses proceeds from the farm to educate his two children plus meeting other family needs.

Interested farmers and middlemen buy the produce from his farm and sell in various parts of the town.

The farmer is exploring how to tap into more lucrative markets in neighbouring counties like Mandera, Marsabit and Garissa.

ADVANTAGES OF LEMON

The farmer who says lemons have transformed his life advises other young people to embrace it for various reasons. First, he says production of lemon is cost effective compared to other crops.

The tree, he says, produces fruits throughout and pests and diseases can be controlled through pruning.

“Pruning triggers growth of new shoots and also prevents wind from damaging the branches. The tree also requires enough sunlight to generate more energy for photosynthesis which spurs production of more juicy fruits,” he says.

Other best practices to ensure good yield is regular irrigation. For him, he irrigates the trees twice a day.

He adds that supporting the tree during flowering and fruiting stage, is crucial to prevent them from falling.

To prevent the trees from being blown away by the wind, he supports them with poles.

“This area experiences strong winds that can uproot the trees so to avoid that, the trees need support especially during fruiting,” he says.

To restore soil moisture, Hassan does mulching using grass.

The ambitious farmer has established a seedlings nursery and supplies seedlings to interested farmers and youth.

As a way of giving back to the community, he trains youth and women groups how to start lemon farming.

“People in my community wallow in poverty because they still insist on a pastoral lifestyle as their major economic activity. We live like beggars depending on relief food. I want to see everyone afford a decent life. That is why I am teaching them a new and reliable way to fish,” shares Hassan.

Hassan plans is to increase the number of trees on his farm and inter-crop with other crops like spinach to improve soil nutrients.