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Farmer earns Sh130,000 a month from eggplant thanks to irrigation

Irrigation projects in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties have enabled farmers to take up horticulture and significantly increase their incomes.

James Mwenda, for instance, has been smiling all the way to the bank

Irrigation projects in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties have enabled farmers to take up horticulture and significantly increase their incomes.

James Mwenda, for instance, has been smiling all the way to the bank after ditching bananas to farm eggplants, commonly known as biringanya.

“I have been planting eggplants for five years, and compared to bananas, they fetch better prices. I also get higher yields from a small portion of land,” he said.

He also grows watermelons, butternuts and a few bananas at his farm in Iringa location, but it’s eggplant that has turned his fortunes.

Mwenda is a beneficiary of the Ithitwe-Iraru irrigation project in Imenti South subcounty, which is being implemented by the National Irrigation Board. He can harvest his crop throughout the season.

He has planted eggplants in half an acre and since he started harvesting in January, he has earned nearly Sh130,000 from the sale of eggplants.

“By the time I finish harvesting in March, I will have made Sh200,000,” he told journalists who visited his farm in Meru last week.

MARKET OUTLOOK

Mwenda sells the eggplants to traders, who then export to Egypt. He sells a carton of eggplant at Sh300, but the price varies; it can go as high as Sh600 to Sh700 per carton.

“In a week, I harvest at least three times a day, and so far I have harvested about 120 cartons,” he said, while sorting out the produce ready for the export market.

Mwenda shifted from maize farming to banana farming before shifting to horticulture in 2015, when the irrigation project was established.

He uses sprinkle irrigation. He starts by preparing a nursery and, after two months, replants the eggplants in the farm. They are ready to harvest after one month.

The price of the eggplants depends on the shape and colour. The straight ones that are purple in colour are more preferred in the market.

“I have not really exploited the local market because since I started planting eggplant, I have been selling them to traders, who export the produce. But I believe there is a demand in the local market that farmers can exploit,” Mwenda said.

He plants with fertiliser and sprays pesticides to control frost. The eggplants are labour intensive. The father of two said rain-fed agriculture is frustrating, but with irrigation, a farmer can have a crop all throughout the year.

Mwenda has been able to buy an acre with the proceeds from the eggplants, and plans to expand the land under eggplants to two acres

“I want to uproot the bananas I have planted on one acre and plant eggplants and butternuts instead. I get about Sh30,000 a month from the sale of bananas, yet I can get the same from the sale of eggplants in a week. I started harvesting in December 5 and harvesting will continue until March,” Mwenda said.

IRRIGATION SCHEME

Eng John Wairangu, from the National Irrigation Board in Embu, said the Ithitwe-Iraru irrigation project was constructed from July 2013 to June 2015 at a cost of Sh67 million.

Some 300 farmer families have benefited, and they irrigate 400 acres. The project is located in Iraru and Ithitwe villages, Kiringa location, Imenti South subcounty.

“Before the project was started in 2012, most farmers depended on rain-fed agriculture, and many planted maize and beans. We limit a farmer to one acre of irrigation and each farmers pays Sh300 for maintenance,” Wairangu said.

The main components of the project include construction of diversion weir, construction of intake box, laying of 23km main line and installation of a sprinkler system at farm level (infield system).

“The project was aimed at enhancing food security and self-sufficiency, increasing the incomes of farmers, and creating employment,” he said.

“This was a dry area but now many have shifted to horticulture thanks to irrigation. Most of the farmers use sprinkle irrigation, but in future, we want them to change to drip irrigation to reduce water waste, especially for those doing banana farming,” he said.

Wairangu said the Muringa banana irrigation project in Tharaka Nithi county, Maara subcounty, has three phases.

“Phase one of the project provides irrigation to 1,400 farm families, irrigating approximately 1,500 acres. The project cost Sh207 million and abstracts water from Maara River,” he said.

Phase two of the project provides irrigation to 1,000 farm families irrigating approximately 1,000 acres. The project was completed at a cost of Sh507 million with water from Mutonga River.

Phase three, he said, is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of the year at a cost of Sh224 million.

“This is expected to increase area under irrigation by 700 acres,” Wairangu said.

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