For the past three years, Joel Irungu has been growing pumpkins, a venture which has proven to be lucrative. Irungu, who formerly used to sell herbal medicine, says he had explored other crops such as maize, tomatoes and vegetables but got frustrated due to low production and poor returns.
During a visit to Uganda, he came across a farmer who had planted pumpkins in his farm and he got interested in the crop. Irungu took few lessons from the farmer and opted to try his luck back home in Murang’a county.
He bought seeds of the Israeli giant pumpkins and planted them in his quarter acre piece of land. The results were impressing as he got a bountiful harvest and made good cash.
The good returns gave him the motivation to carry on with the farming and this has helped him to improve his livelihood. “This pumpkins variety is fast growing as they only take three months to mature which means one can plant at least three times a year. So a farmer can make good money in a short span,” says Irungu.
In addition, pumpkins require little maintenance, except during the cold season when the farmer needs to spray them so that they do not get affected by frost. Insect traps are also recommended to net pests, which might destroy the crop especially at the flowering stage.
Irungu says the Israeli giant pumpkin grows big and one piece can weigh up to 50kg, which gives good returns. “A kilogramme of pumpkin goes for Sh20 and a single piece of this variety can fetch up to Sh1,000,” he said. He says if a farmer plants pumpkins on one acre of land, one can generate about Sh1 million to Sh1.5 million depending on production.
Irungu is now practising value addition of pumpkins with an aim of earning more. He has partnered with his three friends and started a processing plant where he is making pumpkin flour. The plant has a drier and a mill. After harvesting the fruit, it is cut into small chips, put in the drier after which they are processed into flour.
Irungu says the fruit is highly nutritious but many people don’t eat it as they term it as baby food. “With the flour, people will be able to make various products out of it such as cake, bread, biscuit, chapatti and pancakes,” he says.
“We are setting high quality standards for this flour which is not only meant for the local market but also for international consumers,” he adds.
To sustain production, Irungu has been wooing farmers in Central Kenya to plant pumpkins as there is a ready market. “Some farmers from Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Embu counties will be supplying me with the pumpkins for processing and this would also serve as a good venture for other farmers who want to make quick money,” he says.
Irungu encourages more farmers to venture into pumpkin farming as it has a ready market with good returns. “I intend to engage farmers into contract farming so that they can be supplying me with the pumpkins for processing,” he says.