Reresik Trading centre located along the Roret-Kipranya road in Bureti sub-county, Kericho hosts an enterprising small-scale pineapple farmer who amid the Covid-19 pandemic steers on with her 22-year-old passion.
Mrs. Caroline Koech a resident of Reresik village remains committed to delivering the sweet fruit to her clients despite the challenges brought about by the deadly virus.
Pineapples have been a source of livelihood for Mrs. Koech and together with her husband, they have managed to educate all their five children to university.
Together they started the venture in 1998 planting 800 seedlings on an acre and a half piece of land after purchasing the suckers for Sh2 from a neighbour.
The following year she had her first harvest of 1, 500 pineapples that she sold between Sh80 and Sh100 depending on the size at Kitale market. She harvested the fruit for two years.
Currently, two acres of her farm located on a flat plain hosts 7,000 fruits of the crop. The farmer also propagates pineapple seedlings which she sells at Sh3.
She has been harvesting 1,000 fruits twice in a month and currently makes close to Sh 50,000 but all this has dropped by 50 percent as her clients are opting to keep off her farm as they feared contracting the dreaded corona virus.
The pineapple farmer reveals her passion to grow the fruit came out of watching her neighbours cultivate the pineapples on small parcels of land and earning a substantial amount of money to cater for their families.
“My curiosity to grow pineapples on my shamba arose from monitoring my neighbours who had the fruit on their farm which they harvested and sold generating income something that I saw to be beneficial. During my first attempt, I grew 800 suckers having bought them from my neighbours at Sh2 and I cultivated them for two years on an acre and a half land. At the time, I had three customers from around Bureti and Kikuyu and Nakuru who would buy 300 to 500 pineapples,” said Mrs. Koech who says harvesting is twice per year and it goes on for three months.
The mother of five plants the pinneaples using the double row system, a method that makes it easier to manage the fruits and also gives higher yields.
As the demand for pineapples grew, Mrs. Koech could not keep up with this demand, as customers as far as from Nakuru would visit her fruit farm requesting close to 1,000 pineapples in a day.
With the proceeds, she was able to expand the land to accommodate more fruits to two acres in 2004. She uprooted her old 800 suckers and started afresh with 7,000 suckers.
Surprisingly Mrs. Koech uses no organic manure or fertilizer during the planting of the suckers that she breeds, an activity she does up to date. As pineapples grow, they develop suckers.
Going to the market place in search for customers is not her trend as they come to buy the fruit from her farm.
The mother of five says that her customers come as far from Kericho town, Kisii, Nakuru and Nairobi, but with the corona virus cases still on, a few of her customers have opted to keep away.
Roret market an open air market for pineapple farmers closed down in April following directives by the Kericho county government as a measure to protect against the spread of Covid-19 forcing many of the fruit farmers to have no retailing outlet for their produce.
“Before corona, I would have four customers in a day coming to buy the fruit from my pineapple farm but currently, I have one or none. My customers from Kisii would take like 400 pineapples, a customer from Nakuru would pick 1,000 and Kericho customers would take like about 80 to 100 pineapples. This corona virus pandemic has kept many of them away for fear of contracting the disease or ending up in quarantine at the county health facilities. The 500 fruits which I harvest once in a fortnight I sell at the farm and have to contend with the gate prices, which are as low as Sh10 for a big pineapple. Roret market was closed down following the onset of corona pandemic and we are just dumbfounded at all these unforgiving state of affairs,” she adds.
The ardent pineapple farmer adds that field visits from the agricultural extension officers have also significantly decreased.
“With Covid -19 pandemic still with us, the visits made by the agricultural extension officers have taken a nose dive unlike the other years where they would come every month and give us advice on how we can protect the pineapples from pests and disease,” she quips.
She is however optimistic that with plans underway to revive the stalled Roret pineapple processing plant, this would benefit the fruit farmers in the region to earn more income from the cash crop through value addition.
The pineapple processing plant located three kilometers from Roret Trading center initiated 12 years ago has been dormant, deserted, with virtually nothing going on.
Plans are now underway to finish the installation of the machines and get the plant running by end of November, following a visit by the PS Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Dr. Francis Owino last month who pledged to work together with the county government to ensure the project is completed.
The pineapple farmer is not about to halt her passion despite the Covid-19 pandemic upsetting her retailing and supply chain. This was evident when KNA visited her farm and found her busy supervising the pruning of the fruits and checking the suckers from pineapple stalks laden with fruit.
By Sarah Njagi