Opica Farm officer Michael Muraya carries a 15kg Opica f1 pumpkin fruit at the North Rift Agricultural Society of Kenya Show on October 29, 2016. The fruit does well in dry regions. PHOTO BY LABAN ROBERT.
Farmers in low rainfall regions can grow and sell drought tolerant pumpkins that go to more than 15 kilogrammes per fruit in less than six months.
Nyeri County’s Opica Farm, the growers of the Opica f1 pumpkin also buys the fruits from farmers at Sh180 per kilo if they meet the set standards of quality.
Apica f1 requires water at germination and fruiting stages. Its structural adaptation makes it do well in rains suppressed regions to give high quality fruits for baking and porridge flour.
Paul Kabucwa, who works for Opica said the variety has a deep taproot of more than one foot, which enables it to collect the little moisture available in deep soil layers.
“Besides the deep taproot, Opica f1 has numerous fibrous roots that ‘scavenge’ and collect any moisture. it stores the water for slow releases and use it thick stem. These qualities make it survive in regions with suppressed rainfall,” Kabucwa said.
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Plants lose water through stomata on the leaves, as well as the skin of fruits and stems.
But this variety has thick skins and leaf cuticles that reduce the amount of water loss when it is dry and hot. The leaves are smaller and fewer than ordinary pumpkins. They also curl to reduce the surface area exposed to the environment, therefore, conserving the water.
If it rains fairly well or under irrigation, it can give up to 45 fruits weighting from 10 kilos to more than 30 kilos, but gradually.
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Because of the little water in the fruits after maturity, turning the pumpkin into flour is easy.
“The quality of the flour is high because most dry regions have more mineral deposits due to limited tillage. Leeching too is limited because of the infrequent rains. That makes the pumpkins to be rich in minerals like zinc,” he said.
Zinc is one of the major minerals said to boost immunity and reduce cancer pains.
Apart from selling the seeds to other farmers at Sh25 per treated seed, Opica Farm also buys mature pumpkin fruits from farmers at Sh180 or Sh200 per kilogramme, depending on the quality and supply.
Michael Muraya, another officer from the farm, said the pumpkin is processed into flour, before mixing it with finger-millet and other ingredients for porridge.
He added that the seeds are fried like groundnuts and sold as natural zinc supplements. The skin of the pumpkin is also squeezed to release zinc-rich juice for drinking.
Kabucwa can be reached on +254727418846 while Muraya’s number is +254705365961.