From Fruit Vending To Successful Pineapple Farmer In Kilifi – Success Story Of Zachariah Makori’s
Thousands of pineapples grown in neat rows welcome one to Zachariah Makori’s farm in Mlunguni village, Marafa, Kilifi County.
The fruits, farmed on 16 acres, stretch as far as the eye can see. And as Makori walks inside the farm checking on the plants, one can understand why he is a happy farmer.
“I started as a fruit vendor in 2010 selling melons, pineapples and avocado. Then I moved to growing watermelons in 2013 on half-an-acre,” he recounts, adding he started farming with a capital of Sh30,000.
The money went on leasing land at Sh5,000 per acre for a year, clearing it, ploughing and planting melons.
“I got some income out of it but the venture largely flopped because I had no skills in farming. I did some research and visited established farmers for lessons.”
He picked up the pieces and went back to farming, this time growing okra, pineapples, capsicum and indigenous vegetables.
“The crops did well and I got some good income out of them selling the produce in the Coast towns of Kilifi and Mombasa,” he says.
In 2018, buoyed by the success, he again went for watermelons, growing them on 24 acres but as fate would have it, he lost to floods the produce and part of his irrigation system, generator and water pump valued at over Sh3 million.
“I have never recovered from the loss but this did not stop me from farming, which is what I love. I moved to pineapples, the Smooth cayenne variety in 2019. This is because the crop is resilient, fetches better prices and is easy to manage,” says the 29-year-old.
He has divided the 16 acres into three portions, one is six acres and the rest five.
Master pit technology
“For pineapple, I only do one season. I depend on rain and produce fruits that weigh three to seven kilos each.”
Makori grows the fruits using the master pit technology, which is almost similar to zai pits. He learnt of the farming technology in Zimbabwe during a visit.
The pits have a length of 40cm, width of 30cm and a depth of 45cm. Once dug, compost manure mixed with top soils is put in the pit before crops are planted.
“I do minimum tillage, where I clear the land, prepares pits and then plant the suckers, which I get from my farm and fellow farmers. The technology is good as it retains water for longer periods,” explains the farmer, who is a father of one.
The technique also helps to boost soil fertility as one uses dry matter, such as grasses, leaves and stems for mulching.
“I normally plant pineapple suckers that are about 30cm long then does mulching and watering.”
One can also grow vegetables, tomatoes, maize, beans, cowpeas and pigeon peas in the pits.
According to Makori, master pits are spaced 60cm from each other and host a plant each.
Pineapples mature in 18 months after planting, and the farmer must weed and top-dress the crop with fertiliser rich in nitrogen, calcium and potassium nutrients at two months and at 15 months.
“The fruits experience minimal challenges of pests and diseases. However, one should look out for rodents such as moles, squirrels and rats,” says Makori, who studied diploma in journalism at Elgon View College in Eldoret.
The farmer gets an average of 7,000 pieces of fruits an acre per year.
“Most of my customers are wholesalers from Malindi, Kilifi, Mombasa and Nairobi. I sell each fruit at between Sh40 and Sh100 and one harvests for up to five years before production depletes,” says Makori, who employs four workers and also keeps chickens.
He admits that use of master pits technology is labour intensive, but he notes they are a long-term investment .
Since he relies on rains, one of his challenges is the erratic weather, especially when there is prolonged drought.
There is also invasion by monkeys and poor infrastructure during heavy rains that affects transporting produce to market
John Mutisya, a farm field officer working with Biovision Trust Africa, a Machakos-based NGO, the master pits are an efficient technology in growing crops in the drylands.
“Use of organic manure and practices like mulching makes plants healthy and strong, enabling them to be resistant to most pests and diseases.”