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How organic farming changed my fortunes

Growing demand for pineapple fruits in Nairobi make youth an exemplary farmer

Milliam Murigi @millymur1

When you find Peter Kiarie carrying his Agriculture textbooks in Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology (Kist), you might think he is just another youth who is passionate about agriculture. He is currently taking up General Agriculture courses at Kist.

Peter is not only passionate about agriculture, but he is also a successful organic pineapple farmer. Peter, who hails from Tambaya village in Gatundu North Constituency, Kiambu county,  started pineapple farming in 2013 when he was still a secondary school student.

Though his farming idea was not well received by his brothers he was determined. Then a student at Kaibere Secondary School, he was given a quarter-acre by his father where he planted about 3,000 suckers of smooth Cayene pineapple variety.

One-and-a-half years later, Peter managed to harvest 20 dozens for the first fruits, which fetched him about Sh1,800. A dozen pineapples were going for between Sh80 and Sh100. 

This was a good motivation and after high school in 2015, he expanded the farm to five acres.“I was so lucky because my father had idle land which was being used as a forest. I only required clearing it and turning it into agricultural land,” he says.

At the same time, Peter took on job as an untrained Biology and Agriculture teacher at his former school. He also decided to become an organic farmer. This meant replacing farmyard manure with organic manure.

Two years later, he quit his teaching job to go to college. “The idea of organic farming was borne after realising there was a lot of competition as this area is known for growing pineapples,” says the 25 year-old.

So he collected vegetative weed waste he had heaped aside earlier when clearing the fore and started making his own organic manure to feed his crops. Through organic farming, he has managed to get bigger and sweeter fruits compared to the rest of the farmers, which has attracted neighbours to his farm to learn and to buy his pineapples.

“As a way of ensuring that I will never ever run out of organic manure, I have set aside an acre from where I get vegetative weeds to make the manure,” he says.

Organically grown pineapples are sweeter, carry more juice and are bigger in size. Moreover, the lifespan of the crop is longer — up to seven years — unlike inorganic ones, which only take a maximum of five years once you start harvesting.

Currently, he has a ready market for his fruits in Nairobi with a standing order of 1,000 pieces per week. Sometimes he is unable to meet this order, forcing him to incorporate other organic farmers.

The fruits are sold based on quality, with Grade One fetching up to Sh120; Grade Two Sh110; Grade Three Sh80 to Sh100 and Grade Four Sh50 per fruit.

“Currently, I have 10 acres under pineapple farming (five acres of family land and five leased from neighbours). I am harvesting between 70 and 100 tonnes (840 to 1,200 pieces) on a weekly basis,” he says.

Recently, Peter started training other youth on organic pineapple farming.  In the near future, he is hoping to start a cooperative to bring together all farmers growing organic pineapples and also look for better-paying markets for the fruit.

“The best thing about pineapple farming is that it doesn’t require a lot of labour. You can also harvest fruits for seven years before introducing new suckers in the farm,” he says.

Apart from pineapples, he grows yams, passion fruits and tree tomatoes (both grafted and ungrafted), tissue culture bananas, arrowroots, cassava and avocados. Generally, he is a fruits and tubers farmer with high concentration on pineapple.

His advice is that for one to be successful in pineapple farming, you need to have a big and fertile land. Virgin land is recommended and farmers should eliminate use of fertilisers, prepare the land well and plant the appropriate varieties depending with your location.

Pineapple fruits are rich in vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants. They may help boost the immune system, build strong bones and aid indigestion.

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