In January 2020, the former Embu County CEC in charge of Agriculture Ann Nyaga was appointed by former President Uhuru Kenyatta as the Chief Administrative Secretary for Cooperatives in the Ministry of Agriculture.
This was a natural appointment for Ms. Nyaga, owing to her background in agriculture where she succeeded immensely and made millions.
Unknown to many people, Ms. Nyaga has always been passionate about farming. In particular, she is one of Kenya’s highest flying watermelon farmers.
After graduating from Egerton University in 2007 with a degree in biomedical science, Ms. Nyaga got a job as a purchasing assistant at a firm in Nairobi.
But she quit after six months and turned to watermelon farming in Kenya. This is what her parents had been doing for years at their home in Mbeere, Embu County.
“I settled for watermelon farming in Kenya because they do very well in Mbeere. They are high-yielding, mature faster and do well in the market,” said Ms. Nyaga.
She started growing melons on her parents’ three-acre farm with a capital outlay of Sh. 20,000. She used the money to buy seeds, but soon realized that she needed more to invest in a proper drip irrigation system.
“I did trial runs with seeds from different companies before I discovered that hybrid seeds produce the highest yield.”
She would plant the seeds in a nursery before transferring the seedlings to the farm after three weeks. “The whole process, from nursery to harvest, took about three months depending on the climate and the variety of watermelons as some matured early,” she said.
According to her, watermelons require a lot of water especially at fruit-formation stage. CAS Ann Nyaga also invested in a drip irrigation system that includes water pumps, hand spraying guns and pipes. She bought the equipment from the profit she made on her first harvest. “Lack of adequate water leads to low-quality fruit. If one has water problems, then drip irrigation is the best alternative,” she said.
However, installing a proper drip system is costly, particularly for small-scale-farmers. “A drip system costs Sh. 200,000 per acre. This may not be affordable to many farmers,” she said.
The option for small-scale farmers doing watermelon farming in Kenya is to partially irrigate the crop and plan for the fruit-formation stage to coincide with the rainy season. “This means you plant seeds two to three weeks before the start of rains,” Annie said.
As a farmer, Ms. Nyaga would invest between Sh. 80,000 and Sh. 100,000 per acre. This covered the cost of seeds, labour, chemicals, irrigation, salaries and fertilizer. According to her, with good management, watermelon farming in Kenya could give you 30 to 40 tonnes per acre.
Prices vary according to market forces. This poses a huge challenge to farmers, who find themselves at the mercy of middlemen. Depending on the season, a kilo of watermelon goes for between Sh. 15 and Sh. 35.
“Middlemen usually take advantage of desperate farmers, especially those who get high yields but find no market. Lack of ideal market linkages for farmers means brokers dictate farm prices,” she said.
But this did not stop her from dealing with brokers, who bought most of her harvest. The trick, she said, was in knowing the market price. In one of her harvests, she harvested 30 tonnes and sold to brokers at Sh. 28 per kilo, making gross sales of Sh. 840,000 in three months. If you take away expenses, she raked in a profit of at least Sh. 600,000.
“I do not know how I would be fairing now if I had stuck to my purchasing job. Going into farming was a good decision,” she said.
“I am a living proof that watermelon farming in Kenya pays and can be done by anyone. Farming is a profession of hope. To those interested in farming never ever give up,” she said.
About CAS Ann Nyaga:
Ann is a holder of Bachelors of Science degree from Egerton University. She was Chief Executive Officer at Farm to Home Limited from 2005 to 2014.
Ann was also the Executive Director of 4-H Kenya from 2017 to 2018 before she was appointed CEC for Agriculture by Embu Governor Martin Nyaga Wambora from 2018. She moved to the national government in January 2020.