Mr John Munya pulls a metal hanging on a wire on his quarter-acre apple farm in Kimumu, Uasin Gishu County, and it bursts into a cacophony of sounds that send birds dashing for safety.
He repeats this every time he spots birds hovering over the farm. The 74-year-old farmer has devised a way of scaring away the birds that eat his apples, using the metals hanging on wires strewn all over the farm.
“Even if you invite me for a cup of tea, I will not come. My future is here on the farm,” he says, as he strolls round, adding that every space on his farm is meant for apples and nothing else!
His entire land is filled with apple trees at various stages of growth, save for the area where his magnificent house stands.
This has earned him the name, ‘Smart urban farmer’.
Mr Munya has 315 apple trees, which he started growing as a hobby, but which has blossomed into a thriving enterprise.
He now banks on apples, and “no longer wants to see any other tree in his compound,” he says, as get down to the interview.
He has since found a ready market in City Park in Nairobi and a buyer who exports the apples to South Sudan. Currently, he has 200 mature trees. In a good month, the farmer rakes in between Ksh150,000 and Ksh180,000.
“I harvest two to three cartons daily. Each carton has about 100 apples. I sell each at Ksh20 to Ksh30, depending on the size.”
The farmer also sells seedlings at between Ksh300 and Ksh350.
His is a story of opportunity taken, which has morphed into an apple empire. But how did it all begin?
In 2007, Mr Munya, accompanied a friend to a ruracio (bridal introduction) in Nyeri County. There, he met an old man who was growing apple fruits.
At the time, his only interest was to provide his family with fruits. “Out of curiosity, I bought 37 seedlings for Ksh300 each, spending Ksh11,100. However, not all of them sprouted,” he recalls.
After two years, he had started harvesting. The harvest was so good that he had a surplus and decided to sell some to his neighbours and passersby. He would be amazed by the number of people who visited his home to buy the fruits.
“I was able to sell about 600 pieces of the fruit at Ksh20 to Ksh30,” recalls the father of five.
Between 2013 and 2015, he was harvesting the fruits from 50 apple trees, selling to fruit vendors in Eldoret Town and Kimumu residents at Ksh10-20 apiece.
Stung by the idea of going full-blown into apple farming, he went back for another 30 trees in 2010, which he bought at Ksh300, spending about Ksh9,000.
It is rare to find an urban farm that specialises in growing apples. It is mostly kitchen gardening, aquaponics, or poultry farming, but Mr Munya had decided to give it a try.
He taught himself how to graft and soon began filling his farm with seedlings.
“I have stopped growing other crops, and building rental houses on this space is out of the question. With the money I get from my apples, I can buy anything I want.”
He has seven varieties of apples, but the green and red ones are fast-moving in the market. A mature tree can produce up to 3,000 apples a year, or 30kg to 40kg.
Today, he gets seedlings by grafting them from his mature trees.
“Apples require soils that are rich in potassium to increase the fruit’s sweetness,” he explains.
He digs two-foot deep by two-foot wide holes. He mixes about 10kg of manure with soil for each seedling.
During the dry season, he irrigates them. “I pump the water from a borehole to my 1,500-litre tank, at a monthly cost of Ksh500,” he says
Mature apples do not need a lot of water but when they are young he waters them for the first six months.
Before flowering, he removes all the leaves since the flowers sprout from the buds, each producing four to six fruits. This improves the quality and quantity of yields.
Once the trees start fruiting, he supports them with poles so that they don’t fall under the weight of the fruits.
“I work on the farm alone and only employ casuals during harvesting. To get the desired fruit size and quality, I also thin the trees,” he explains.
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