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Story from the MyFoodStory website:


Watermelon Grown Along Lake Victoria - Kenya

Watermelons are grouped according to fruit shape, rind color or pattern, and size. These groups are often named for a popular variety with those characteristics. The people name them according for example, oblong melons with dark stripes on a light background in the 25 to 35 pound range are called Jubilee types after the popular Jubilee variety. Melons of similar shape and size as Jubilee but with a light green rind are called Sugar baby types, again for a popular cultivars, Sugar baby. Round melons in the range of 20 to 30 pounds with a striped rind are called Sweet types. Small oblong melons (15 to 25 pounds) with a dark green rind and light yellow stripe with dark red flesh are called all sweet types. Watermelons with a blocky shape (between a Jubilee and Sweet type) are referred to as Royal Sweet or Mirage types. Finally, round watermelons of 10 pounds or less are referred to as icebox types to denote their ability to fit into a refrigerator.

Because varieties are constantly being changed and market trends are changing, selecting varieties acceptable for your market is important. Consult your seed dealer, buyers, brokers or your county Extension office for the latest information on available varieties". This inclusion was from the ministry of Agriculture.

The interview taken by Samwel Kongere and Bernard Midianga to: Peter Okaro of Rowo Village Suba District.

It is interesting to have you here Mr. Peter, meet my colleague Bernard Midianga we are working to find the most appropriate food stories on crops. Our goal is to find good stories on watermelon as we had from a group discussion that you are growing watermelon and you know on it.

Anyway we are concerned about the background, commercial value and human/ we may ask you more questions as we discuss about the crop and to learn with you here in two days.

Can you explore to us fully what value this crop has on you and your family? How did you come to know this crop has value?

1. Outline background on Watermelon. 2. Production Overview. 3. Commercial and Market places 4. Human utilization Outline background on Watermelon

The traditional name here for watermelon is Afuoto meaning:-"with water inside". The melon fruit we are talking of here, is sugar baby's type as popularly known by many farmers here. The sugar baby melon is now the most productive and sustaining to pests, which destroys the balls.

Biologically, Watermelons (Citrullus lunatus) are in the family of Cucurbitaceous and divided into many types based on their sweetness and fruit. When the agricultural specialists were training us, they said Melons depends on originality and the type of the ball. Color of the fruit can also determine its name. All though watermelons have a long history, it is believed to have originated from the ancient world and many traditionalists know it better than the current generation. I am not very sure where it originated from but guess it got introduced to the ancient world and to our grandparents who started planting it before we were born. In late sixties when I was a young boy there were two farmers growing the crop here in our village. They were growing a different type and were doing well during those days. Now, Mr. Peter! How did you come to like growing Watermelon? I loved water as a young child and I had all pleasure to eat the remains of the harvest from the farms. Mainly these farmers were harvesting over the holidays and we could go on following them. Get the remains and eat there and there. Those harvesting left behind the small balls and these were our pleasure to eat. May be the production was much and they could not transport much using dhows across the lake to Kisumu. When I grew up these old farmers could not plant melon again, they complained of poor transportation, as the transport system was improving and expensive. They thought on venturing in fishing that was less expensive. Given many had put much of their efforts on fishing; many never thought agriculture could change their lives until recently in 1999. This is the time when I took the initiative to grow watermelon and it did not just come. The government saw our soil is good for melons and market was there, they initiated training sessions for farmers and I was oriented, got the historical interest on melon. I do not know other types of melon fruits but sugar baby is the best around here. There are varieties of watermelon worldwide, and varieties are grown in the U.S. and Mexico. Until late 1980s, watermelons were considered seasonal fruit in our region but when our district was created, many today need exports combined with local production ensure there is continued supply supply. The sugar baby melon was introduced here by Care international, An NGO working here, Sugar baby watermelons are gaining in popularity, as they are ideal for export and cannot be destroyed by pests. After harvest, it can stay longer without spoiling.

This is the type Peter Calls Sugar baby.

This type is hard and sweet.

Production Overview.

You had told us the government saw the area where you live have good soil for melon production, what do you think they considered. The officers said melons are generally grown on sandy hill soils with good internal drainage. Our area Rowo has many drained hillsides. This forms the area of Gwassi hills surrounding our residential area here. The grass here and shrubs helps much when the crop is producing small balls. Grass is put down to protect the balls from rotting. Varieties of seeds that we have, we receive from NGOs and governmental offices, they help the farmers to get tested seeds.

Mostly we prepare land before planting. Here we do not transplant but just sow using our small jembes or hoes. Planting is done manually by hand starting in late March continuing through mid April, in other areas we hear they do transplanting. We plant our first crop from March. This forms the first season's planting and second season in September. We plant directly and do not need using plastic as other fruits or mulching which will mean transplants, this is due to the weather conditions here allows direct planting. Seed germinates best at soil temperatures of 68–95°F, and planted 1 inch deep. 1–2 pounds seed required per acre, depending on seed size, germination and plant spacing. Sugar baby watermelon can be spaced more closely together in the field than more oval types, and in-row spacing is 2-3 feet while between-row spacing is 5–6 feet. After planting the crop needs extra care because of weeds and pests, you leave a span of two weeks to weed and spray the pesticides. The middle of the rows is cultivated to control weeds. Most growers do not spend much effort on wed control in melons. The middles of the rows are cultivated several times during the growing season. We still hand hoe the weeds in between the hills on the rows. When the farm is cleared of weeds, you can prepare grass to use in protecting the small balls. This is the time when extra care is needed, as good harvest will come from this care. It is needed you know the direction of sun light, sunlight makes the balls to be hard and sweet, therefore it is good to make them be of high quality harvest. The sufficient sunlight will also make the balls durable after because the market places are far for the district. To produce high quality melons depends on knowledge and determination. So far, these are the methods used to enhance the maturity of the crop and take advantage of the higher prices in late July and early August. Melons are side dressed or sprayed three to four weeks after planting with pesticides. The majority of the melons growers in Suba spend little effort in pest control. The majority of melons grown in the district are grown in a low input manner. Most growers do not have adequate spray equipment to spray melons and knowledge to protect and this minimize interest for planting. The major insect problem on watermelons is cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles feed on the foliage and are the vectors for bacterial wilt disease. Cucumber beetles prefer to feed on cucurbit plants like squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupe in addition to watermelons, but can also feed on a wide range of crops, including corn, beet, peas, sweet potato, okra, lettuce, onion, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and others. Spotted cucumber beetle, whose larvae are known as southern corn rootworm, is the most general feeder of the three will also feed on many grasses and other weeds. Feeding damage from adult cucumber beetles results in ragged holes in the leaves, and the beetles may also feed on stems. The larvae, which are found in the soil, may feed on the roots of the vines and the underside of the watermelon fruits laying on the soil. Greatest effect on watermelon yield occurs when plants are beetles are present at the seedling stage. The older plants can withstand higher damage. When cucumber beetles are found on ten percent of seedlings, control measures should begin, but when the land is prepared properly then dressed the beetles die before infecting plant. Note; Peter says, the information he received from the ministry of agriculture-"Watermelons bear separate male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious). Only female flowers set fruit. Bees are necessary for pollen transfer pollen. For successful seedless watermelon production, bees are especially important, as seedless varieties do not produce pollen. The pollenizer variety is planted in alternate or every third row, or as every third plant in the row. Use a distinctly different variety as pollenizer in order to easily distinguish seedless fruit. Icebox varieties used as pollenizers result in early yields; picnic varieties used as pollenizers result in greater total yields. Icebox varieties usually flower 7–10 days earlier than picnic varieties, so delay icebox pollenizer planting" Commercial and Market places.

Most of the Local watermelon production is consumed fresh. Our watermelon consumption since 2000 has doubled due to the tested seeds brought to the district and watermelon is becoming more popular in our province Nyanza. About 70% of watermelons are purchased at the retail level for home consumption. We have to take our melons to provincial headquarters. Most of our buyers come there, we do not know whether they export the produce or sell to the local consumers in our big towns. I mentioned earlier that the former farmers used to transport using dhows, which could take several days before reaching Kisumu. Now that there is market and improved transport, we do not need to wait for so long before there are favorable conditions in the lake to send dhows. Even dhows are not there nowadays. We send our production report to the buyers and come to collect the produce, we use the current information modes like internet and mobile phones to inform our buyers to come and collect ready products. If the market is here well managed like this, why don't many people grow Watermelons? Our people are concerned on fishing, planting seasonal crops, these crops are not grown for commercial purposes but for food and the other months, they remain doing fishing related businesses. I hope you can take some instances to train them and make Watermelon a more utilized crop to improve the people's living standards. Yes, but our community here will not hear of it as they think there is still no market for melon. The attitude has made the production to remain very low, in case the many people here plant it. What other factors do you think affect the commercial value of the crop? Inadequate rainfall and failing to have extra care during and before maturity stage. Sometimes, the road can be very muddy and vehicles cannot travel to this area. Our roads are impassable over the rainy season. You can also miss to get the right seeds and this cannot allow you get the good yields. Human Value and Technology Utilization Agriculture is the main stay of Kenya's economy providing employment to more than 70 percent of the population. The sector contributes about forty-five per cent of the GDP and sixty-three per cent of total exports with coffee, tea, cereals, pumpkins, watermelons etc accounting to 40 percent nationally. Furthermore, agriculture plays a crucial role in providing raw material inputs for the industry. Endowed with wide ranging agro-ecological zones and diversified resources, Kenya grows most types of cereals, fiber crops, oil seeds, coffee, tea, fruits and vegetables and gourds. The potentially irrigable land is estimated at 5 to 8 million hectares. However, much is not done to irrigate the land around Lake Victoria and people wait for the seasonal rains for planting which is most of the time very unreliable. Lake Victoria has the moderate livestock resources in Kenya. Fishery and forestry resources are also significant, but there are underutilized resources to tap this richness. If all is done accordingly, then planting and exporting Watermelon, would be utilized and many community members can reconsider the importance of Watermelon. Considerable opportunities exist for new private investment in the production and processing of the above agricultural crops and resources. The following areas in particular have been identified to offer plenty of opportunities to private investors. Great opportunities, therefore, exist for commercial production and processing of these food crops. Some pulses can also be produced or processed for the export market. These are not done and people seem to be confused on what to produce and sell commercially.

Note: We can integrate the opportunities that exist for fresh water fish production and processing using artificial ponds. In addition, the country's fresh water bodies have a potential of an estimated annual fish production of 30,000-40,000 tons, of which less than ten per cent is presently being exploited and irrigation can be done to expand food production.

This piece of information is from Peter Okaro of Rowo Suba district and compiled by Samwel Kongere, Bernard Midianga, and Jane Otieno.


Editor: Samwel Kongere


From the MyFoodStory website, storyteller Peter Okaro

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