Zachariah Onchuri, a watermelon farmer in Malindi County is earning over Sh90,000 net profit a season from the venture he started in 2010 after persistently defying all odds to continue growing the fruit despite losing Sh11,000 he invested in the first attempt due to lack of enough knowhow in farming.
Before venturing into watermelon farming, Onchuri was hawking pineapples, watermelon, and sugarcane in the coastal town in May 2009, a business he was introduced by a friend. Of these fruits watermelon was the most earning fruit according to him.
“I used to make Sh500 a day from watermelon sales as it was loved most by consumers and I would always run out of stock even when the demand still high leaving me with nothing to sell,” said Onchuri.
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The fact that people loved eating watermelon inspired him to the thought of beginning farming the fruit. In September 2010 he joined another friend at Chakama, Malindi who leased him a quarter acre farm at Sh2,000, bought watermelon seeds at Sh5,000 and some drugs at Sh4,000 from his savings to start off his new venture.
Unfortunately at the end of that season, he lost everything to diseases given he had no knowledge in growing the crop and had not thought of asking from experienced farmers around.
“At a time I was expecting my first fruits in December that year, I realised the produce were still very small and unhealthy while others were withering away. There was no hope on them so I destroyed everything to start afresh.” Said the Journalism and Mass Communication course dropout from Elgon View College’s Eldoret Main Campus in 2009 January.
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Having lost everything from his first trial, Onchuri was forced to ask for a Sh50,000 loan from his mother whom he says did not know her son had started farming.
Then the friend who had leased him a quarter piece of plot gave him another a half acre farm to start off a fresh with a promise that he would pay him in case of good harvest.
After visiting some experienced farmers around for consultations, he grew watermelon again in mid-January using the friend’s generator water pump to draw water from Athi River which the farm was closer to water his tender crops through the dry season.
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By mid-March 2011, he harvested about six tonnes of watermelon which he would take to markets in Malindi and Kilifi to sell by himself at Sh40 per kilo without passing through middlemen hence making full profit.
“At the end of that season I made Sh200,000 gross income remaining with Sh140,000 after expenses and this has since motivated me,” said Onchuri.
Today the young farmer has over 47 acres of land under rotation watermelon farming at Chakama and Garsen in Malindi. He produces 10-17 tonnes of the crop per acre selling on order to wholesalers from Mombasa, Malindi Kilifi and Nairobi at Sh60 per kilo.
This rakes him between Sh900,000 and Sh1.2m clean net income after farm expenses, siblings school fees and some on his mother’s needs.
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He has since become watermelon farming consultant offering the service for free to farmers in various parts of the country and in neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda.
“I believe that sharing information among farmers can not only help in increasing yields and income but also enable starters chose the right agribusiness to venture in for better returns. This is why I do it for free,” he said.
Photo: Zachariah Onchuri (left) with his colleagues at his watermelon farm in Malindi. Photo courtesy.