by Robert Manyara
NYERI, Kenya, Oct. 22 (Xinhua) -- In an effort to remain resilient to hostile environment, farmers in central Kenya region have embraced farming of pumpkin, an orphan crop well performing in water stressed areas.
They have also learned different ways of diversifying its use, a progress attributed to the ongoing sensitization of farmers from various food production stakeholders.
George Muraya has three acres of a high producing and drought resilient variety of pumpkin in Nyeri, north of capital Nairobi. He said it's the best choice a farmer can make to escape from hunger.
"You only need two cups of water each week per fruit," said Muraya, who grows a variety called opica. It is a graft of jolladale and rock mass species, he said.
"This variety is highly resistant to diseases and does well in arid and semi-arid areas because it can survive with low rainfall," said Muraya.
In cold areas, the crop matures between 28 to 32 weeks while in hot regions, it is ready for harvest in 17 to 20 weeks, he said.
"In moderate weather it can mature in 20 to 24 weeks. It is a crop that can grow anywhere," he said.
Kenyans living in at least two thirds of land in the country fall in either arid to semi-arid zones with minimal or zero agricultural activities.
It is in these areas that the National Drought Management Authority shows the need for redress to upscale food production.
As temperatures continue to rise as a result of the impact of the devastating climate change, more areas are turning into unfavorable farming zones, an inevitability the Kenyan government is aware of.
Kenyan economy is mainly anchored in farming, which provides more than 85 percent of the population jobs spread across the whole production and consumption chain.
"We will be able to address the issue of hunger if we had people in the areas such as Baringo, Kilifi, Garissa or Mandera growing pumpkin. These are dry areas and there are others in various parts of the country," said Muraya.
Presently, more than 1.3 million are threatened with hunger and malnutrition in the Eastern, North Eastern and Coastal parts of the country.
Worse still, the Kenya Meteorological Services has in the latest forecast predicted a rather dry season in most parts of the country till the end of the year.
This as it indicates will affect farming activities but advises farmers to consult agricultural officers on the appropriate crops to grow during the season. In Muraya's farm, each plant of pumpkin produces 45 fruits.
On average, each fruit weighs 20 kilograms. And one unit of weight goes for 1.8 U.S. dollars. To enhance its shelf life, the fruit is dried and milled into flour used for various purposes as preparing ugali, porridge as well as well as cakes.
He also makes juice out of the fruit rich in vitamins. It is the realization of the existing benefits and markets for the produce that has also drawn Paul Kabuchwa into pumpkin farming.
"You can eat pumpkin at any time of the day," said Kabuchwa who jointly runs the three acre farm in Nyeri with Kabuchwa.
"We should not be having farmers sticking to crops that fail. The weather is changing and it's impossible to feed ourselves if we cannot grow what can survive in bad weather," said Kabuchwa.
He said the proceeds from the crop farming are encouraging since they have a ready market in the cities and other farmers in various parts of the country.
Out of will to change the farming landscape in the country, the two visit farmers in their farms to educate them on pumpkin farming.
"We have been to Coast, Eastern, Western, Rift Valley and some parts of Central Kenya, meeting farmers in groups and as individuals," said Muraya.
"And we already have so many of them growing pumpkin. And it is very encouraging."
For decades, many Kenyan communities regarded pumpkin as a traditional crop but it is these changing temperatures and preferences that have catapulted interest in converting it into one of the emerging cash crop in a country of more 40 million people to feed.
Recently, the Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Willy Bett said the government will continue to support farmers in becoming more resilient to climate change through supplying varieties of seeds of crop that perform well in low rainfall.
He also said they are making all efforts to encourage farmers to grow orphan crops to boost food security, which can in the long-term lower levels of hunger and poverty.
With other enlightened farmers like Muraya and Kabuchwa taking part in spreading the information, it is expected that the country will be steady in feeding its population in the midst of harsh climatic conditions.