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Resilient farmer earns Sh100,000 a month from pawpaw and passion farming after losing Sh446,000 in watermelon

Margaret Mutheu pawpaw and passion farmer

Margaret Muthew tending to her pawpaw fruits at her Kaewa farm in Machakos County. Photo courtesy.

In 2017, Margaret Mutheu lost about Sh446,000 worth of watermelon she had planted on a two acre farm at Kaewa near Yatta, Machackos County due to drought and a porcupine inavasion. Down but not out, she decided to grow crops that required less water such as pawpaw and passion fruits farming, a venture which is now earning her and other two friends at least Sh100,000 a month.

“The failure in my watermelon business broke my heart as it was my first attempt in agribusiness and I was surprised how much money I lost on a farming venture expected sweet returns. However, this did not discourage me because my passion has always been business entrepreneurship,” said the 2008 Computer Science graduate from Maseno University.

After her graduation, Mutheu got a job with Kenya Broadcast Cooperation (KBC) beginning 2009 and worked with the station for five years before joining Britam in 2015 to be in charge of its IT service delivery across its branches country wide.

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In 2016, she quit to start farming upon doing some online research on agribusiness and settled on watermelon as the first crop that she would plant on a two acre part of family land at Kaewa that her father had bequeathed her.

She spent Sh450,000 from her savings and additional financial support from her husband. To start off, she spent Sh300,000 on labour which included clearing and ploughing the virgin land and the remaining Sh150,000 on infrastructure which was majorly irrigation system, seeds, fertiliser and  drugs.

“I had to spend a lot during this first time because besides lacking experience in the new venture, the land had not been cultivated for many years hence there was a lot to be done to make it ready for the crop,” said Mutheu.

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In May 2017 she planted the crops and as she was preparing to start harvesting in August, porcupines invaded the farm and ate a good number of mature fruits, some had withered away because of drought and diseases while others were stolen.

“At the end of the harvesting period I only realised 50 kilos of watermelon which I sold to grocers and juice blenders in Nairobi at Sh80 per kilo earning me Sh4000. This was an embarrassing loss,” said Mutheu.

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However, the 34 year old farmer did not lose hope in farming. As she was researching of an alternative crop that would require less water to irrigate than watermelon, she was approached by two of her friends in September 2017 and together they started Tefama Group Limited, a company through which they would grow commercial passion and pawpaw fruits.

They invested Sh150,000 in capital and before they would start planting on the same farm she had planted watermelon, they approached Daniel Mwenda, an agronomist and agriculture extension officer in the area for soil sampling and testing to tell the viability of the two crops in the area.

“As a way of avoiding making the previous mistakes as was with watermelon, we sought the guidance of an agronomist who knows the ecological condition of the area and best placed to recommend the best type of crops that would do better,” said Mutheu.

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When the exercise was completed and okayed by Mwenda, they bought from him 1,000 certified seedlings of solo sunrise pawpaw and sweet yellow passion seedlings at Sh80,000 in total and begun planting on an acre Kaewa farm in December 2017.

This according to Mutheu was to target the end of short rain season as the two crops do not need much water but in case of drought the group accesses piped water from Masinga Dam and a reservoir tank installed in the farm to help irrigate the crops in case of power outages.

Irrigation costs between Sh1,000 and Sh2,500 per month.

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After a wait of nine months, the period the two crops take to mature, Mutheu and colleagues are now harvesting 50kg of pawpaw and 150kg of passion every two weeks with the harvest of every fruit increasing by 10 kilos per harvest.

They sell a kilo of both fruits at Sh150 thanks to a ready market that the young entrepreneurs enjoy. This earns them Sh30,000 in two weeks and over Sh100,000 gross income per month.

“We supply our fruits to a value addition firm in Nairobi and we cannot meet their high pawpaw demand while passion is marketed through social media where we get many orders from our wide network of former work colleagues and other friends,” she said.

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In this, she also sources from other neighbouring farmers who face market challenges and together she supplies up to 300 kilograms passion fruit after every two weeks directly to consumers earning her Sh45,000 per supply and Sh135,000 gross income a month.

She has one permanent employee and from time to time hires casual laborers when there is much work.

Mutheu and her co-founders are now thinking of putting up a plant to help farmers in the area process their fruits which most of the time go to waste due to lack of market and good price.

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Besides farming she also runs 1 Million Startups East Africa Chapter, a global entrepreneurship community. The community works with entrepreneurs tackling sustainable development goals challenges through entrepreneurship by helping them access capital, mentorship and business advisory.

You can reach Margaret and their company on [email protected].

                                                                                                                                                             

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