Pumpkin farming is rare in Nyamira, a county well known for bananas, maize, and other subsistence and cash crops.
This is why it is exciting that a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) operating in Nyamira Township Ward has been training farmers to engage in pumpkin farming and value addition.
The NGO, known as Empowered Citizenry Against Poverty, targets the less fortunate and vulnerable in society.
The organization is working with self-help groups in the area.
Speaking on behalf of the NGO, Douglas Orutwa Onkeo, said the crop has the potential of turning around farmers’ lives.
Orutwa said he started pumpkin farming five years ago and he is not looking back.
“I started the project of pumpkin farming in 2017. I had always wished to start such projects,” Orutwa remembers.
He adds that after benchmarking with Nkubu Community-based organization in Meru, his mind changed.
“I realized Meru people were trained on pumpkin farming and there was an organization doing pumpkin value addition,” Orutwa recalls.
He then decided to train his community on pumpkin farming and offer them free pumpkin seeds to start them off.
He says when a farmer plants one pumpkin seed it produces 100 pumpkins and that is the reason behind his efforts to train people in his community.
Orutwa, who spoke to The Scholar Media Africa while at his office in Nyamira town recently, said that he started by establishing and training self-help groups.
He has trained approximately 1500 farmers belonging to various self-help groups within the West Mugirango constituency.
He also engaged Nkubu Community Based Organization to train farmers and offer them the initial market for their pumpkins.
The organization was buying pumpkins at Ksh500 each from farmers.
From the first harvest, “One lady from Bonyamatuta, who took that initiative wholeheartedly, sold her 80 pumpkins and got Ksh. 40,000, “Orutwa says.
Sabina Maoga, a beneficiary of the empowerment project, says she used to make a lot of money from pumpkin farming but due to the recent persistent drought, she has suffered losses.
“My pumpkins dried up and those that survived produced smaller heads. Like this oval one now costs Ksh100 or Ksh150,” she said with a sad tone while pointing at the pumpkin.
The pumpkin farmers formed Nyamira South Community Transforming Sacco which is fully registered and operates within West Mugirango Constituency.
“The Sacco has grown and right now has about 300 members. These farmers can get loans from the Sacco with an interest of 1 percent,” Orutwa said
Commenting on value addition, Orutwa said one group has already started producing pumpkin products.
Previously they used to take their pumpkins to Meru for value addition.
For instance, Compassionate Community-Based Organization has started value addition of the pumpkin,” said Orutwa.
The group dries yams, bananas, pumpkin seeds and stinging nettle.
They later take them to the posho mill to make medicinal flour for sale.
The group’s secretary, Patrick Isaboke, says they first peel them, cut them into small pieces and dry them before taking them to the miller.
“We also cut yam leaves like vegetables and place them in troughs to dry,” Isaboke adds.
Each farm produce is milled before mixing is done in correct proportions.
Lazarus Momanyi, who is the project manager for Compassionate, says their major challenge is the lack of enough solar driers.
Currently, the group has one solar drier which can cater for the larger number of products needed.
The group also faces challenges of certification and approvals by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) and other safety and health agencies.
“When you are producing foodstuffs, you need to get approval by health agencies. Again, you must get your foodstuffs certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards to determine that you meet the recommended quality standards,” says Momanyi.
Farming pumpkins can be profitable, since there is a lot of demand for pumpkins.
Consumers have become more health-conscious, preferring natural food to processed foods for breakfast.
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