By Evance Odhiambo
A visit to Oriang’ village welcomes you to dusty and grassless open fields with no hope of any agricultural activity. The people here depend on other regions such as Kisii, Nyamira and Migori counties for the supply of farm produce.
Most of the residents around Oriang’ rarely cultivate since nothing will come out from their farms at the end of the season. Ironically, the area is just few kilometers away from the world’s largest tropical and the second largest freshwater lake, Lake Victoria.
Despite the harsh climatic condition and water scarcity in Oriang’, one farmer, Philemon Mboya Awino is changing the narrative. He has transformed this to an oasis of hope, a green desert. At his expansive 10 hectare land, Mboya has constructed water storage facilities almost at every corner of the compound. He pumps water from his well using a generator to the storage tanks.
“This well has helped me a lot in my farm. Unfortunately it dries up very fast. I have a truck which assists to bring me water from the lake which is 5 kilometers from here. I store the water both in my concrete tank, underground tank as well as these plastic tanks scattered all over,’’ said Mboya.
This water has helped him grow over 300 grafted mango trees and over 1000 grafted oranges. Mboya started this venture with just 10 seedlings, now he develops his own seedlings from his tree nursery. Some he sells.
He started doing all these from his savings. Mboya recently retired at the rank of a police commissioner with recent posting being in Matungulu Sub-County in Kakamega County.
He still had time to farm. At his farm which is within the compound Mboya has planted 7 varieties of mango which include tommy, kent, apply, ngowe, haden, van dyke and sensation.
To ensure the mangoes are well watered, he has dug trenches around each mango tree. The stored water from the tanks are opened at intervals and channeled in the farm using water pipes. Once the trenches are filled, the tanks are closed and the mango trees absorb the water. This keeps them hydrated and healthy.
Besides using the trenches, Mboya has also constructed fanya juu terraces that help to control water when it rains in the area. The water through drainage help in keeping the soil moist for some time. This he does even to his orange garden.
“These terraces have helped me a lot. Water is a problem in this area and it pains me when it goes to waste whenever we receive the rains which are very rare. The terraces not only controls the water but also prevent the soil erosion,’’ says Mboya.
Mboya is using his own manure. He says using organic manure even make the fruits more tasty. The manure he makes from droppings from his poultry as well as dairy section. He also harvests water hyacinth from the lake which transport, decompose and apply in the farm.
From this semi-arid area, Mboya is able to make over Ksh. 1.5 million in one season from mango alone and this is to the lowest estimation. He says that a single mango tree produces over 500 fruits in a season. From this, he sells a mango at ksh. 10 and this amounts to ksh. 5000 to the lowest estimation and when multiplied by 300 mango trees, this farmer takes home ksh. 1.5 million in a season from his mango farm alone. He sells the fruits to local traders with a huge chunk to the juice firm, Delmonte. He has also ventured into juice processing, although at a small scale for local markets.
He, however says that this huge return is not a walk in the park. He faces numerous challenges. Fruit fly is a major challenge in the growing of mangoes and oranges. He has set traps all over the farm from where he collects the flies. This isn’t effective enough since only few flies get trapped. With this challenge, most fruits get rotten and fall.
“I loose close to half a million shillings due to fruit flies. I am in the verge of getting experts that can help me solve this problem,’’ says Mboya.
Water shortage in this part of Karachuonyo is also a challenge. He uses a lot of money in fueling his truck which help in transporting water from the Lake Victoria. He is appealing to the county government of Homa Bay to sink boreholes in this area to aid in horticultural farming. In order to maneuver between his employment and the farm, Mboya has permanently employed 10 people who help in managing the farm.
His workforce includes both the skilled and semi-skilled personnel. His farm manager is a graduate in agricultural field. He uses part of the income from the farm in paying their monthly salaries.
The county government of Homa Bay has selected his farm as a model for studies. Students and farmers from far and wide always make a trip here to learn the basics of farming especially in pomology. County agricultural field days are also done in his farm.
According to an agricultural officer from the Homa Bay County office Caroline Ochieng, the department of agriculture has put initiative that will encourage other farmers in semi-arid areas to get involved in large scale agricultural production. They have also set aside Ksh. 10 million to help in sinking boreholes that will aid the farmers.
‘’Fruits from Homa Bay County have been tested and found to be the best in terms of fructose content. For example mangoes and oranges from Mboya’s farm have been certified by juice companies who have been approaching him for large scale supply. We as the county government of Homa Bay are taking this up and will sink boreholes to help provide water in this area,’’ Ochieng said when she paid a visit to Mboya’s farm.
Mboya urged those living in semi-arid areas not to sit and lament but turn their plight to wealth by modernizing agricultural activities. He says this is sustainable and everyone should give it a try.