Story from the MyFoodStory website:



Can you give me some ideas about Pumpkins as regards to Human consumption, commercial and poverty?


Pumpkins have been grown over the years since our forefathers came to the Island (Rusinga). It is a traditional crop which many believe as important to them as fish is their main staple dish; it is vegetable and can be mixed with any food to add up as complete meal. Pumpkins are popularly known as Budho in our language. The context is that, it is a crop which is drought resistant and can be planted before the long rains start in March. It got its name from the lasting conditions it takes before the rains start. Mostly it is easier to plant the crop locally.

In Rusinga and many parts of Suba District Pumpkins are planted in October or November. This is during the dry spell with little fluctuating rainfall when most plants cannot survive the excessive heat, there are only some traditional methods used to help it to survive. At planting holes are made with hoes and fresh preserved seeds kodhi are put in the holes. Within a few days the crop germinates. Most mothers wish to give the seeds to the young children who haven't done much sins and this will make the crop produce the best fruits. This is a cultural belief and it is honored, it is among the top honored crops due to its food content and vegetable as a component taken by other protein meals.

On the growing stages: community and most families maintain the growth of pumpkins by only pouring water on daily basis, children and other family members while going to the lake carry small buckets for carrying water. It doesn't need much water and so small amount of water poured at the foot of the crop is enough to make it grow. Timing is done in planting and within a few weeks when it starts to creep the family already has some vegetable from its leaves to eat; it was planted to revamp famine which was too much after the dry season. This will be a time when families have completed the cereals stock getting ready for another planting season. Pumpkins are produced for local consumption, many people nowadays does not plant pumpkins at the right time and doesnt get the best result.


Rusinga Island and the entire Suba District do not produce enough pumpkins for export and most of the crop grown here is for food consumption locally. Most families don't know the importance of pumpkins. Only NGOs working in the area are advising on how to increase the production for export as there is high demand for pumpkins.

Although the production has been limited to the community and mostly families growing pumpkins Budho, the gross return to families locally is great, many cannot afford to plant the pumpkins earlier for better results. Only those who had heeded the wise instructions of the forefathers who were growing the crop to revamp famine. These lazy families have made the whole market for those planting the crop. When the crop starts creeping, and producing yellow flowers it releases buds for producing the fruit which forms the main meal. This is around March when the long rains starts here. The people believe it is good because when the planting starts many leave their various businesses and converge to prepare land ready for planting; given people are busy they need a supply of food and pumpkins gives this substitute every time one comes from the farm.

A well managed pumpkin plant can produce as many fruits as 50 or more depending on care. Mostly harvesting is not done officially as the crop can go on producing fruits when it is receiving constant water supply. The usually grown pumpkin is greenish and in rare cases yellow ones when fully matured, but the produce is either green or yellow depending on the seed.

The produce is now improved and most people are taking their produce to the markets around here such as Homa Bay, Kisumu and there is a great need to increase the production. The average production of pumpkins in Suba District is 1500 to 3000 per acre depending on the care put on the production. Price will also depend on maturity and size of the variety needed in the field. Having a personal interview with Mr. Michael Okeyo who had a considerable harvest in the previous year recommended his hard work and the short rains which aided his work to be successful with best produce. The harvest was great but there was no market destined for his proper matured fruits, he had to put the pumpkins in his makeshift granary to wait for prominent buyers. Those agitating for good production from one NGO came and took the produce with a pick up. This was the first time for him and other community members to find a direct buyer. Thus, this move made the community to embark on planting more pumpkins before the rains start next season. The current production is going to change and pumpkins will be grown for cash. Mr. Michael believes that the accounting 40% of the district pumpkins will come from their division Lambwe Valley.

As pumpkins are drought resistant, they don't need much pesticides. Pumpkins tend to be more tolerant to insect damage than other vine crops, but farming vary a great deal, and some are susceptible to insect damage. It is now that agricultural ministry is getting people to be conversant with the damaging insects and how they can be controlled. Insects such as aphids are very significant vectors of plant pathogens. Information about insects in pumpkins is partially developed from work in other vine crops. The locals are only weeding and wait to harvest only bees are said to be interfering with the flowers and may cause some balls to fail in fruit production. Internationally, there are many insects identified but locally the farmers are doing well to learn new techniques because there is growing demand for pumpkins production. The current status of pumpkin pollination is not well characterized by our agricultural ministry due to their attitude towards the community's income.


As mentioned above, in production there are a lot of factors affecting the production of pumpkins in Suba district and the surrounding islands. Many cannot plant in time to wait for the long rains. Rainfall also affects the production; if one waits for the long rains when the annual planting is on, the pumpkins cannot do well. Rainfall also is unreliable and planting many seedlings over the dry season is not possible by doing simple irrigation by buckets.

Sometimes the rainfall is too much and can not allow the pumpkins to do well. The roads are impassable during long rains in Lambwe and transporting of the produce to outside markets is hard. The first harvest usually is in May when there is too much rainfall for the annual planting period. Vehicles to transport the produce don't come for collection due to poor infrastructure and bad weather. The people had not realized the importance of pumpkins and are used to plant just few seedlings only to cater for the needs of their families. This in itself could not improve the production and supply, the people need to be told that there is enough market. Without this production is totally affected.

The market has been the greatest stabling block for production projection. They were not informed of ready markets where to take their produce and many had to leave the planting of pumpkins. Suba District agro-climatic conditions make it suitable for the production of a broad range of crops and vegetables but the government is taking minimal time to train on the people who are not exposed to upcoming techniques for farming and technology. The people are to wait for additional manpower skills which should be given to them by the government and without exposure here; production is dimmed failing.

Previously, there were individuals vending the produce and this could not allow proper designated market. Now that many are forming farmers co-operative unions which will improve the sales bargain for their produce.


Since our forefathers had a foresight for planting pumpkins earlier, it was a much valued crop and vegetable for them. They planted pumpkins for subsistence only, this was a consistent food supply for one family, to prepare them for the hard farm work ahead which was three months after planting seeds. Pumpkins were planted mostly for vegetables and its fruits which were much valued for protein. For most of years pumpkins have been consumed mixed with other protein dishes such as fish and meat. The types of leaves taken for consumption are large with soft, velvety texture. Leaf margins are irregular but not lobed, not all leaves of different pumpkins plant is taken as vegetable; they will know the right leaves charging by the tendrils which are usually long and forked. By the time the tendrils are seen forking up, the farmer will know the vegetable can be taken and this takes place after one month from the time of planting. The pumpkin can provide vegetables from its leaves for a very long time depending on the water supply. When the pumpkins starts producing flowers as an option for fruit production. The plants have yellow to white flowers depending on the seed, and the large staminate flowers occur in clusters while the pistillate flower occurs as a single flower. The flowers are also consumed as vegetable. The vegetables are taken at a time when many people can not get other types of vegetables and its consumption is high over the months of March and April. The pumpkins fruit will be harvested and taken when the rainfall intensifies. People will be getting enough vegetables and as the leaf gets harder it cannot be taken anymore as food. The families wait for the mature fruit which they also take as food. The mature pumpkin fruit is cooked soaked in boiling water for several minutes or hours depending on the specie and can be taken without mixing it with any meal except vegetables, tea or porridge. The fruit is very nutritious full in protein and is good for development in children. Pumpkins locally had value and helped many families to stay comfortable when there was severe famine. There were situations when people had no cereals in April and pumpkins could substitute the families need for food and this is what we mean by "revamping famin" (Romo ne kech). Talking with Jackline of Sugrela, she mentioned the consumption of pumpkins seeds and the entire fruit is beneficial to the body's health. Many recommend pumpkins fruit, as the current herbal drug promoters prefer its consumption to increase immunity. The intensive training carried out over here by Chinese drug promoters working for TIANSHI has made the demand for pumpkins as food and medicine increasingly in demand, according to Jackline.


Pumpkins market is regarded as limited and seasonal as portrayed above by the sugrella members from Lambwe valley. Pumpkins are grown primarily for subsistence and family consumption with a small percentage grown over the years for market vending which has not been very profitable to the farmers. Commercial sales through the years have been minimal and picking on farmers to get their market gains, very disappointing and retail sales could take somebody a considerable time without gain. This made the farmers to plant fewer crops which could only help them when weeding was of other annually planted crops is on.

The situation is changing and as organizations are penetrating the district to make people be informed about food consumption and market exposure; the value for planting pumpkins is gaining momentum as Michael puts it; encouraging people to plant more as there are upcoming markets.

With connections and means of transport opening up, the people will have time to take their produce to market and the buyers are now ready to buy from the farmers. The farmers can also be encouraged in planting more seeds and in time for export which Michael says, can open an opportunity for the farmers. Pumpkins mature when crops grown here are not harvested and finding local market is eminent. The primary market window usually starts early June and goes through August when the usual harvesting starts for other cereal crops. If information is brought closer to the people as much as needed, pumpkins will become wonderful crop as the demand increases.


Choice of pumpkins varieties is based primarily on market intentions and local performance of specific types can be upgraded to find best species for market needs. Pumpkins species produce fruit that range in size from less than a pound to more. Selection of the variety is based primarily on the size that the intended market desires. Vending of pumpkins should be treated as lack of information as there is enough market which can help the community improve their living standards. Sales can include a range of sizes, but those grown for subsistence will generally be a wonderful gain to our needed food for export demand. People need pumpkins for their health and food in different parts of the country.

It is unusual, but not impossible, to produce pumpkins in excess in this district but due to the impending advance information for the farmers for improvement and new techniques for planting can enable the farmers be updated and this can help them to differentiate between the better selling crops and valuable ones. Other characteristics important in pumpkins species guide selection should be included in information pact to help the farmers know the market needs as outer color, shape, and vining habit and, of course, yield. Traditional range of colors and ribbed shapes are generally preferred here and can not fetch higher in other specific markets. Pumpkin varieties may have vining, semi-vining/semi-bush or bush growth habits. The selection of growth habit is important in regard to the space that the grower has on which to produce the crop. Many open-pollinated pumpkin varieties perform well. In the conversation with the group members, the idea is not to commercialize pumpkins because the farmers are not going for newer hybrids seeds for pumpkins which may produce a higher yield, particularly of the medium-sized pumpkins even the colored ones we see in the international markets should be introduced here for them. There is little disease resistance control currently offered in available varieties, there are varieties now available with powdery mildew resistance. Some of the varieties that have proven to be successful in other areas and can do well in this area can be put under discussion. Generally most crops when planted are weeded and extra care taken but a valuable crop like pumpkins is not given this care. The sugrela group members are feeling that it is better to commercialize pumpkins through available information which can be given to farmers to expand their production. Most farmers should be told the names of varieties that they are supposed to produce. Like pumpkins produced commercially will have to meet the demands of the intended market. Many small produced pumpkins are produced for families use and arrangements should be made for expansion to engage in commercial pumpkins production for cash. In Rusinga, vegetable production using drip water from plastic buckets has increased production since Christian Children's Fund introduced it in 2000. This system can increase production. This method is a technology to help in planting more pumpkins over the dry spell. Some people call it drip irrigation referred to as Plasticulture and it offers many benefits. However, the extent to which benefits are actually achieved depends on how effectively production is managed. Plastic has the potential for increasing profitability of many vegetable crops. On the other hand, poor management of crops on plastic usually results in greater losses than poor management of production on bare ground. This is a technology which can improve the potentiality of the farmers but who will take this initiative? There must be a functioning and continuing ability in identifying what the market is all about for your production. Technology can help the farmers to determine how much earlier production and how much increased yield can be achieved with a well managed cultivation system? In any given situation, that depends on the specific vegetable being grown, the average temperatures during the production season (especially in dry season) when most of the planting is done. Information can be found on the internet and creating a wireless connection for this area can increase crop production information. People can also be trained in information handling where every person can learn where to get information about crop introduction by searching the internet if availed to them. We need networking groups and internet access is a way to reach the rest of the world. The solution is the community should be informed and interactive.

Editor: Samwell Kongere


From the MyFoodStory website, storyteller Samwell Kongere

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