By Dennis Odunga, Daily Nation - Kenya (February 23, 2012)
On the slopes of the Kerio Valley escarpment in the Rift Valley, Mr Francis Kiplagat delights in the fruit of his labour.
In particular, a mango and vegetable venture that he started as a hobby in childhood, and which he has nurtured for 40 years now, is paying off.
Mr Kiplagat says that proceeds from his farm have enabled him to raise school fees for his four children pursuing university education with relative ease, besides meeting other financial obligations.
He has a mango plantation that occupies 20 acres of his farm in Biretwo, Keiyo South district.
He reveals that an acre can have about 50 to 60 trees, planted at intervals of 12 metres on a three-by-three square foot hole that should be ready a year before planting to allow for application of manure to improve its fertility.
Two of his children have already expressed a keen interest in agriculture; a move he says is commendable given that the mango trees he planted can survive past 100 years if accorded proper care.
Traders stream from as far away as Nairobi and Kisumu to purchase a variety of the local and exotic mangoes to sell at various local markets or to export to European hubs.
His mango varieties include Van dyke, Apple, Tommy Atkins and Kent. Each variety fetches about Sh600,000 a year returns due to their good quality and high nutritional value.
The exotic varieties are usually grafted on traditional mango trees to improve the overall quality.
The different varieties mature at varying times of the year, hence assuring him a steady income throughout.
“However, I invest a lot in the Apple variety because it matures fast, compared with the others, and it’s usually ready for the market in August when the country experiences an acute shortage of mangoes,” he says.
He adds that due to the supply shortage then, many traders travel to his farm for the fruits — saving him transport costs to various markets.
In a good season, he sells ripe mangoes at Sh10-15 each, depending on their size.
Some, like the Kent variety, weigh about one kilogramme when mature, he says.
He is looking forward to a time when he will be able to sell the fruits per kilo, saying that will fetch him more money.
“Middle-men are really making a killing from us, yet we are the ones who incur heavy cost,” he says.
For maximum returns, he says, the trees must be pruned and watered during their first three years of growth.
They should also be sprayed with insecticides regularly to stave off pests and diseases such as the mango weevil, fruit fly and mango hoppers.
He says the government should make available low-interest loans to farmers, and build rural roads to facilitate access to the markets.
He appeals to the youth to stop over-relying on white collar jobs and give agriculture a chance.