Besides his hectic life as a public administrator, a chief in Embu county has shot to prominence as a passion fruit farmer.
Karurumo assistant chief Morris Njiru Ndwiga practices horticulture at his Kamavindi farm. It is here that he rolls up his sleeves, soils his hands as he gets busy on his fruit 'empire'.
"Farming is my hobby and passion. This is where I spend most of my time when I am out of the office,” he says.
Njiru is a fruit farmer specialising in sweet yellow passion fruits. He also grows thorn melon and tamarillo (tree tomato) fruits.
Before he ventured into fruits growing, Njiru was a tomato farmer. He however shifted to fruits because tomatoes are prone to attacks from pests and diseases, which saw him suffer massive losses. Tomatoes also need extra care and attention compared to fruits.
“I was looking for a new income-generating project to supplement my salary when I came across a local newspaper story that inspired me. And I changed for the crop,” Njiru says.
To boost his knowledge in fruit farming, he consulted some local agricultural extension officers on the best practices.
"I was assisted by officers like Kyeni division agricultural extension officer Obed Njamura and others. I was able to learn on the best spacing as well as pesticides and chemicals to use,” Njiru says.
Although he works with his wife Anisia Muthoni and son Martin Nyaga, as well as employing three labourers during harvesting and weeding periods, Njiru — who ventured into fruit farming two years ago — always finds time to help around the farm.
In November 2014, he invested Sh1,800 to buy 90 seedlings of sweet yellow passion at Sh20 each from a nursery near Karurumo market and planted them on an eighth acre farm.
Njiru plants at a spacing of nine by six feet and adds about 15 kilos of manure in each hole.
"It took few weeks of regular watering and the seedlings started to bloom,” he explains.
Every morning between 6am and 7.30 am, Njiru is at the farm removing tendrils from the vines because they affect the number of fruits per vine.
"By removing the tendrils, I give a chance for another vine to sprout. This means I will have increased the number of fruits in a single plant as well as the crop’s lifetime,” he says.
For healthy fruits, a farmer must spray and prune on time to ensure pests and diseases which are nuisance to crops are kept away.
When we visited Njiru’s farm last week, he had sold grade some of his fruits. “Currently, we are selling each kilo of grade one at Sh60 and Sh40 for a kilo of grade two fruits,” he says.
In July last year, Njiru sold his first harvest at Sh60 per kilo but the price fell to as low as Sh30. "This taught me the importance of timing my harvest so as to get good money."
He got 478kg of sweet yellow passion fruits in his first harvest which he sold for between Sh30 and Sh60. He sells his produce to Wilmar Flowers Company in Thika.
He says although he did not make as much money as he wanted, what he got was not bad for a start. He has over the time increased his plants from 90 to 240 stems.
"Fruits have more returns than tomatoes and I can’t think of quitting. Slowly by slowly, I have now understood the game. This is why I have increased the number of stems in my other part of land,” says the father of four.
Njamura says a well-managed sweet yellow passion fruit stem can yield between 80 and 100 kilos per season.
Following the increase of fruit stems, Njiru expects to be selling 2,500 kilos per season, which will see him making at least Sh100,000 if he sells a kilo at Sh40.
“Watch this space! In three years time I will have bought more land and increased my vines to more than 500. I advise people, especially the youth, to venture into fruits farming.”