Davis Onyango, a 39-year-old farmer in Homa Bay county, has found greener pastures in watermelon production, making a tidy sum from growing the juicy crop. He ventured into it after learning about the high demand of watermelon in 2013.
Before then he had ventured into tomato farming in small-scale on a small piece of land he inherited from his parents at Kananga Beach, in the outskirts of Homa Bay town.
Raring to go and armed with a seed capital of Sh13,000, proceeds from the tomatoes, the farmer says he bought 250 grammes of Sukari F1 variety watermelon seeds, among other requisite farm inputs, prepared the seed bed and his mission took off.
The farming process
“The first step to producing watermelon is to choose the type you want to grow and proper preparation of the seed beds. One has to meticulously follow the laid down procedures of planting the crop which is quite rigorous,” he says.
He narrates that for the crop to generate well, a spacing of 60cm to 1.8 m is necessary. The seeds take between seven and 10 days to germinate, depending on the soil temperature and the depth they are planted in.
Despite some challenges in his first harvest, Onyango fetched a profit of Sh115,000 from the crop he had planted on a one-and-a-half acre farm. This, he says, motivated him to invest more into the crop. Determined to scale up production, Onyango bought irrigation pipes worth Sh60,000 plus a water pump costing Sh50,000 in addition to leasing the land.
Today, Onyango testifies that he has bought the five-acre farm he had initially rented at a cost of Sh178,000 per acre and is growing watermelons in all of it along the lake, from which he has fitted water pipes and a water pump to aid him irrigate the now vast farm with ease.
His second harvest reaped about Sh450,000. “From the doubling of profits I realised I could afford to further invest in growing watermelons,” Onyango says. Despite his large-scale production, his output has not satisfied local demand.
“People have realised the nutritional value of watermelon, which has led to massive consumption. Customers from markets far away rarely get the produce from my farm.
They have to place orders in advance if they wish to buy some,” boasts the father of two, having established links with customers in Homa Bay, Kendu Bay and Rongo towns. He sells his produce in kilos.
“I don’t have a set price for a kilo, the demand dictates pricing,” says the farmer with a smile. Currently, he is selling a kilo at Sh35 in his farm, but stresses it is subject to change, especially during dry seasons when it sells at Sh40. Harvesting is done every two months. In a good year, Onyango takes home about Sh800,000.
Tips and caution
“Seeds and pesticides are expensive, scaring non-established farmers away from trying their hand in growing watermelon,” says Onyango. “The crop is susceptible to diseases such as downy mildew, leaf spot and fruit blotch. Beetles, mites and leaf miners are also quite fond of the watermelon’s leafs.”