There are people designed by destiny such that when you meet them they inspire you so much to make a positive change in life. Fredrick Kinyanjui is one such a person who has crafted the art of growing custard apples popularly referred to as Matomoko in Swahili dialect. He is one among the few ambassadors of the fruit, identified by Murang’a County Government and this has attracted people from all over Kenya who go to learn the ropes of trade from him.
“It has been a tough journey businesswise,” says the tough spoken, Kinyanjui. He is the Founder and C.E.O of Kiha Farm situated at Kamahuha, Maragua Sub County.
He was a long distance truck driver in Mombasa working for an international company and began investing some of his money in farming back home. The idea of farming he recalls was conceived having been raised in a farming background and their father being a disciplinarian, made them carryout farming chores.
“I began growing custard apples in 1995. My flagship project then had 39 trees sitting on a half an acre but currently we have increased our growing portfolio to 3 acres. I love fruits; I do also grow avocados, bananas and mangoes, however custard apples are my favorites,” Kinyanjui explained.
“I wanted to make an impact, so I asked myself, what is that fruit that can easily be grown back at home and people can easily afford and relate with, thus how I landed on Matomoko.It is an indigenous fruit that has been neglected for a long time yet its potential is immense, “he added.
Custard apple emanates from the Annona family with origins in Central America. The fruit derives its popular appeal from its sweet, soft, whitish creamy flesh. Its tree is usually bunchy with glossy dark green leaves, rounded crown, a trunk can be 25-35 cm in width, with a height of 15-35 feet, topped with a large spread of canopy. They resemble ‘wild oats’ in producing multiple fruits, each cluster developing from individual flowers that sprout into a huge fruit bunch.
The growth of custard apples start and ends with the soil composition. Kinyanjui narrates that he had to continually improve his farming land year after year to achieve the desired results. First, he improves the soil by doing a lot of composting and adding animal manure to the soil after every harvesting season. He top dresses with manure and does lots of mulching because when you cover the soil with mulch it helps in ensuring that all the micro-organism in the soil are preserved. Besides mulching and composting he does green manuring and cover cropping. He works to ensure all the land is covered and it’s not bare, normally by planting sweet potatoes.
He has been a beneficiary of the Bill Gates Foundation cohort 3 where he was among the 30 participants who were selected countrywide for training at the United States International University (USIU) and awarded a certificate in Agri-business.
“I usually share my experience and my thoughts on fruits and farming as well as stories from my farm on facebook. I have gotten some clients from this social media engagement. There are those clients who have gotten word about Kiha farm from other clients, friends and also family members. Most of the orders come from people who reside in Nairobi and those who supply to high end supermarkets. A kilo of custard apples retails at Ksh 50 farm gate price,” he averred.
Custard apple contains sugar and fiber. They also contain high amounts of vitamin K, which is required in blood clotting and healthy bones. They are rich in other macronutrients such as iron, zinc and riboflavin. They contain high amounts of folate, also known as folic acid, which is an important nutrient especially in pregnancy, whereby expectant mothers are given folate supplements in the early stages of pregnancy. Folate helps in forming red blood cells, brain development, and development of the neural system and general health of the growing baby in the womb.
The fruit is quite an easy crop to grow and maintain, since it doesn’t require much input. It takes around one and half years to mature depending on irrigation and crop management. The crop does not require a lot of rainfall, which means it, is well suited for production in Muranga which receives moderate rainfall.
Fruits are increasingly being recognized as essential for food and nutrition security. They are providing a promising economic opportunity for reducing rural poverty and unemployment in developing countries. They are also key components of farming diversification. They are mankind’s most affordable source of vitamins and minerals needed for good health. To reap from this economic power of fruit farming farmers need to increase their investment in farm productivity including improved varieties and diversifying their markets.