After cultivating maize for nine years, Uasin Gishu County farmer Kiptanui Kiplagat has dumped the crop for butternut pumpkins, a short season fruit that matures in 90 to 120 days earning him seven times more.
“I started maize farming production in 2009 when I was in form three at my father’s land in Ziwa Sub County, however, after I attended a training in Israel on crops production, I decided to quit maize farming in 2018 to focus on more profitable horticultural crops,” said Kiptanui.
“In one season, one acre of butternuts can yield up to 7,000kg, brokers buy a kilo at Sh30 when they come to the farm, but if I sell directly to my clients at the market, I earn at least Sh60 to Sh70 per kilo.”
When he was farming maize on the other hand, Kiptanui says there was no net profit. He used to harvest an average of 50, 90kg bags, but the prices kept fluctuating leaving him frustrated.
As a maize farmer Kiptanui, planted the crop on a two acre piece of land. He spent Sh20,000 to lease land, Sh3000 to purchase 20kg of seeds, Sh6800 on planting fertilizer costs, Sh5,000 to till land, Sh600 on labor, Sh2,300 on herbicides and pesticides, Sh4,000 on top dressing fertilizer and Sh5,000 on harvesting.
After harvesting he spent another Sh1500 to transport the maize to the store and another same amount to thresh the maize cobs before packaging into 90kg bags ready for sale. The total amount translated to Sh49,700.
“I normally harvested an average of 50 bags from two acres with a 90kg bag retailing at an average of Sh2,000 you would discover that I was only left with Sh50,000 for production costs, thus the net profit is zero,” he said.
In recent years, maize farmers have marketing challenges due to regulation of prices by the government though the Strategic Grains Reserve and the National Cereals and Produce Board. NCPB last year for instance delayed to buy farmer’s produce by more than six months.
Kiptanui ventured into butternut farming after finding out that the demand was high in Eldoret town markets yet the supply was low.
Butternut pumpkin is a pear shaped golden yellow fruit that has a shelf life of up to six months compared to normal pumpkins that can be stored for three months. It is resistant to diseases such as powdery mildew, cucumber mosaic virus and cucumber beetles. The crop is used as food. It is rich in vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C, manganese and fiber.
“From my observation and interacting with traders, I found out that butternuts sold in Eldoret and its environs were sold very fast yet they came from Marigat, Baringo County, so I said to myself, why not produce them here?,”
“The health conscious population has also realized the benefits of using butternut pumpkins to make feeds for young children,”
In early May 2019, he bought Waltham variety butternut seeds at Sh5,200. He spent Sh7,000 to till land and spaced the crops directly in the seedbed at 90cm between plants and 90cm between rows.
He applied DAP fertilizer at 50 kg at planting and top dressed with a 50kg bag of CAN fertilizer at Sh1,900.
“To increase nitrogen content in the soil, I sprayed foliar feed which costs me Sh300,” he said.
Nitrogen is a major component of chlorophyll, the compound by which plants use sunlight to produce sugars from water and carbon dioxide i.e. photosynthesis. It is also a component of amino acids, the building block of proteins. Without proteins, plants wither and die.
“I already have established markets within my networks and grocery in Eldoret town,” said Kiptanui.
He can be reached on +254 712 053 879.