Dry Kenyan north warms up to horticulture farming

horticulture farming
horticulture farming

Residents in the northern parts of Kenya, which are arid, have taken up horticulture farming demystifying the myth that crops like tomatoes, vegetables and capsicum can only thrive in places that have good rainfall.

The farmers in Moyale, Garissa, Mandera and Wajir are farming the crop using irrigation amid growing demand for horticulture produce across Kenya as the dry parts of the country grapple with tough effects of climate change.

Onions, tomatoes and watermelons are among the favorite crops for the farmers as they transit from pastoralism, their age-old practice.

Haile Omar is one of the farmers growing watermelons in Garissa, one of the driest parts of the east African nation.

Omar has been growing the crop for the last two years at an irrigation scheme run by the county government using water from Tana River.

“I farm the crop on two acres and sell to residents in the town and traders come for the bulk to transport to Nairobi,” the farmer, whose family was initially a pastoralist, said on phone on Monday.

The crop does well in the region and the farmer does two seasons a year, ending up with bigger, sweeter fruits.

“I sell each fruit at 200 shillings (about 2 U.S. dollars) because most buyers come from as far as Nairobi for them. It is a good business,” he said, noting residents too eat the fruits in huge numbers thanks to the hot weather.

Other crops grown at the irrigation scheme, according to him, are tomatoes and onions, which similarly do well due to the warm weather.

“Due to the warm weather, when you grow tomatoes and onions, they cannot be affected by diseases like blight, which are prevalent in areas with cold weather or heavy rainfall,” he offered.

Mohammed Hussein, who grows oranges in Garissa, recounted that he initially believed that crop farming can not happen in the dry north until a non-government organization proved to them that horticulture farming is sustainable if they use irrigation.

“I have been growing oranges for the last four years and I am lucky to have a farm near a river where I pump water from for farming. I sell my mangoes at 0.03 dollars each to traders who ferry them to Nairobi, Mombasa and other parts of the country,” he said.

The latest horticulture crop to be grown in the region is potato, which for years have been a preserve of colder and wetter parts of the country.

Corien Herweijer of Agrico East Africa noted that in Kenya, the perception is that potatoes are only grown in the colder and wetter areas, but the project in Wajir has shattered this myth.

Herweijer noted that while most farmers in Wajir area are traditionally pastoralists, there is a major shift happening towards crop farming amid climate change as livestock fodder becomes scarce due to vagaries of climate change. Enditem

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