At 82, Muia Kusenga is not ready to slow down as farmer. He is a pioneer in his home county of Machakos in grafting crops. Although he was advised by experts to not use this system of farming due to climatic reasons, Mr Kusenga soldiered on.
“When I decided to venture into farming, I was told that the method of multiple harvests from one tree will not be successful. This is because Machakos like other places in the eastern region is faced with dry periods most of the time and this can affect the perfect union between the rootstock and the scion due to lack of enough water, leading to graft failure,” Mr Kusenga says.
However, he did not listen to this advice and especially after realising that the simple technology could enable farmers to harvest a variety of fruits using a single stem.
“I prefer learning by doing. It is self economic sabotage to stop doing something instead of trying and failing, then you learn. I experimented and it worked,” says Mr Kusenga.
“Through the trials, I have learnt that one root stalk can host multiple varieties. This process boosts the performance of poorly adapted types.”
His five acres in Machakos are home to palms, pears, bananas, avocados, tamarillos, pepino melons, apples, guavas, passions and Ngowe mangoes. Others are oranges, green and purple grapes, kiwi, gooseberries, strawberries and peppers.
He says grafting local fruit varieties with exotic ones helps the former to survive in the water-scarce county and produce good harvests. Local avocados have good taproots, which go deep into the soil for water. Their stems are strong, but they are low-yielding.
Mr Kusenga rides on the grafting principle that the scion determines the variety of the fruit. This means a poor stem avocado will not lower the harvest of the exoctic hass or fuerte. Hass and fuerte are shorter and one can harvest them without climbing up. On the other hand, local types can hit 20 feet and their stems are strong. The resultant breed has a strong stem, supporting the high yields from the two short types.
On one Owen rootstock on his farm, he has winter banana, Rome Beauty, Gross Michael, among others. Anna is the commonest high production scion in his farm. He has more than 20 avocado trees and more than 1,000 apples.
According to Bernard Kimutai, an agronomist at Fair Trade Enterprises Limited, a fresh produce exporter, a kilo of hass avocado currently sells at between Sh50 and 70, meaning a piece goes at Sh15. A bag of 57kg of passion fruit rakes in Sh5,104 in Nairobi while Ngowe mangoes go at Sh100 each.
“Farming is about using the small space to earn more. From one rootstock of the peaches, one gets peach, nectarine, pears and palm fruits at one go,” says Mr Kusenga.
Most of the fruits he is growing are highly valued in both local and international markets and this has led to him receiving many visitors including agricultural officers from Machakos County who come to learn from his farm. He has also set aside about one acre for a demonstration farm.
He is currently the coordinator of Muethia Self-help Group, which has 40 members.
Through the group, Mr Kusenga and fellow farmers have gone for benchmark tours in countries such as Uganda and Rwanda.
“There are so many best agribusiness practices by other farmers outside there that most farmers in Kenya may not understand unless there are exposed through tours and benchmarking,” he says.
The group is planning to head to Bomet County for another benchmarking on dairy and potato production.
Despite his advanced age, Mr Kusenga is able to weed his crops with the help of his son and daughter.