My First Million in Water Melon Farming
I started my journey to happiness through watermelon farming journey with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and expectations. It has been a journey full of lessons and so far every lesson has been worth my while.
The last few weeks of my watermelon farming journey have been mind-boggling. As a first-time farmer of the crop, swift and error-free decision-making has been a tall order in itself. I never wanted to make any wrong decisions. I have been very lucky to have by my side friends and government institutions that I frequently consulted. My research also came in handy when I needed it.
My watermelons were now a few weeks to harvest. I was now ready to enter the market of bigwigs or ‘bazuu’ in our common sheng’ slang. I wanted to ensure I had a ready market for my melons before the harvest. Therefore, I embarked on market hunting. I contacted different companies that manufacture watermelon juices, various supermarkets that would need plenty of supply and I even went to small traders in a bid to convince them to buy from me.
To my dismay, some of my anticipated customers turned me down due to loyalty to their suppliers. A few accepted my offer, and others were not sure what they wanted. Something I learned from my friend Jared Kyalo, who is minting millions from watermelon farming in Kitui; is that patience is a virtue, and persistence, determination, and will-power are what any farmer needs to survive in such a competitive market.
As I sat down and considered my market options, I knew that the melon is made up of 90% water, making it one of the most hydrating foods. One single mature Kenya watermelon can produce two jugs full of melon juice. Accordingly, I decided that if worst comes to be and I completely lack market for my melons, I would start manufacturing watermelon juice myself and distribute it to local shops in my region. I had plenty of ideas, including my vision to export the melons to different countries. I resolved to find out more about the international market and the export process.
I remembered Kyalo mentioning that Kenya’s top export markets for watermelon are Qatar, Maldives, and Seychelles. He had told me that in Africa, Rwanda, Somalia, and Tanzania are among promising export markets that a Kenyan farmer can explore.
A quick online search revealed that Rwanda, Somali, Sudan, and Tanzania are among countries in Africa you can export melon though the major market is in Qatar, the Maldives, and Seychelles. However, the African watermelon market was dominated by Algeria, Egypt, and most importantly, the leading exporter in the world; China.”
I always knew that before planning to harvest, I had to know buyers’ requirements which is one of the most important steps for any farmer. For instance, I discovered that market prices for exportation in Kenya have varied over the years. 1kilogram of melon was going for US$0.9 (Kshs 98.64) in 2015 and US$ 0.95 (Kshs 104.12) in 2017. In 2021, the estimated price range for Kenya watermelon is $ 0.95 (Kshs 104.12) per kilogram.
Finally, my 80 days wait came to an end. I was now ready to harvest my Sukari F1 melons. The vine tendrils had turned brown and died off. I had been informed to watch out and that if the tendrils were green, it would mean the melons were not ripe. I had already limited water a week in advance of the harvest in order to concentrate sweetness. My hired labourers and I carried sharp knives that would cut the watermelons away from the vine. The trucks for transportation to the market were also in place. The harvesting journey began.
During the harvesting period, I realized that harvesting and handling costs are much higher than growing costs. I therefore took note, that melons must always be harvested at the right stage of maturity and handled gently enough to avoid damage and to ensure market quality is retained.
“Watermelons should be cut from the vine rather than pulled, twisted, or broken off. Pulling stems out provides an entrance for bacteria and fungi that can cause souring and can decay the internal flesh.” Kyalo had insisted during my trip to his farm.
I recalled him telling me that when harvesting, the bottoms which are subject to heat, humidity, and intense sunshine should be turned down since the intense heat from the sun may affect the melons. I was pleased with how my harvest was turning out. The labourers I had hired to harvest were experienced and were cutting the melons carefully then laying them at the edge of roadways in the farm for loaders to pick up and load in the truck and others in the storage.
I had also read widely and I knew that the transportation trucks should always be well padded with carpet or soft material on the sides and six inches of hay at the bottom in a bid to avoid abrasion injury to the rinds. I ensured that those transporting the watermelons did not ride on top of the load to avoid any damage to the melons.
For the watermelons in storage, I had also read that temperature management is important. The perishable fruit requires the optimum storage of 60° F and should never be refrigerated.
My first harvest was not a disappointment or complete disaster. I managed to gunner 20,000 fruits that weigh between 8kg and 11kg, although my 2-acre piece of land was optimally supposed to produce approximately 28,000 to 30,000 fruits. This being my first harvest, I was pleased. It is now time to sell. If I can manage to sell each between Kshs 80-100, then it will indeed be my first million earned through watermelon farming. I am content and it’s the best feeling ever. Jared Kyalo was right. As I strategize on how to improve my next round of watermelon farming, I can now sit at the table of bigwigs’ alias ‘bazuu’.