Bernice Mwihaki, a pumpkin farmer from Kerugoya in Kirinyaga County is selling the giant Israel variety pumpkins that weigh 20-30 kilograms after three months maturity periods.
Mwihaki who hails from Karia just some few kilometers from Kerugoya town, says the pumpkin can fetch up to Sh500 for a mature fruit when sold.
According to Mwihaki, the variety has an advantage over the others which take up to six months to mature and can only weigh between ten to fifteen kilograms when ripe.
She says apart from growing the pumpkins, they also extract oil from the seed thus increasing their profit margin; a venture which is currently earning them more than double the income they earned from selling the produce when fresh.
Mwihaki who together with her husband owns three acres piece of land, started growing pumpkins in 2014 after a retail shop they had started in the locality failed to do very well.
“We learnt of the new pumpkin farming from a fellow farmer in the area, we borrowed the pumpkin production idea from a farmer who used to produce the crop, while the demand was high as many farmers had not picked it up yet,” Mwihaki said.
“However with time, many farmers have adopted the crop resulting into market competition thus causing price and storage challenges,” she said.
In February 2016, they produced 11 tones and sold all the produce at Sh200, 000 after facing many problems looking for a market, as they had no proper store to preserve the produce to bid time for prices to get better.
Mwihaki said she thought of an alternative way to make other products from the crop, sell and avoid much pressure coming from the market competition.
“We were forced to think outside the box after learning from some of my customers I used to sell the produce to and who were making oil and flour and selling at a much higher profit,” she said.
“In 2017, we sourced for a special machine that is used to crush dried pieces of pumpkins after the manual homemade machine proved to be inefficient, time and energy consuming,” She said.
Before drying under the shade to protect the nutrients from the effects for the direct sunlight, Mwihaki cuts her pumpkins and removes the seeds, then further reduce the flesh into smaller pieces to make it easier for the machine to crush both into powder form.
From six tones of the crop, the farmer can get up to 1000 kilos of pumpkin powder while from the five kilos of the crop, she can get 250 ml of the pumpkin oil.
“Just in one day I can produce 10-20 bottles of 250 ml and 1000 kilos of flour which I pack and sell under my brand name Wilber farm,” said Mwihaki.
She sells a 250 ml bottle of the oil at Sh500 and sells roasted pumpkin seeds at Sh400 per 100 grams.
This has turned out to be one of their lucrative income generating business and most of the time they run out of the raw materials.
In such instances, they source from the other farmers at Sh300 per kilo of pumpkin seeds while the whole pumpkin they buy depending on the variety and the market trend at the time.
Mwihaki says there are about five varieties of giant pumpkins which includes Israel giant, Egyptian giant dollar and the Equatorial giant.
These giant pumpkin varieties are good because they produce seeds, which unlike the indigenous types do not have the harder outer shell, making it easy to crush and extract oil.
By Irungu Mwangi