Mark Ndipita | May 8, 2017
It’s around midday and the rain has just stopped. The weather is back to normal for early March, with a cool breeze and the sun peeping through slowly moving white clouds, bringing warmth to Kunthulu village. Kunthulu is located about 25 kilometres south of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It is surrounded by green maize fields, the primary crop in this area.
Martin Tchoyo farms about 800 metres away from his grass-thatched-house, growing cucumber, maize, groundnuts, and sweet potatoes. He says, “[During] this period of the year when most crops are not ready for harvest, the only reliable source of income for me is cucumber.” Time is running out today for Mr. Tchoyo, who is the breadwinner in his family. He desperately needs money to buy food and groceries for his household. So he takes his mobile phone out of his pocket and calls a nearby vendor to come to his field and buy his cucumber.
When the vendor agrees to come, Mr. Tchoyo rushes to his field to ensure he has enough harvested cucumber for the vendor. He harvests his half-acre field of cucumber, and grades it according to size, colour, and quality. He says: “I am now sure that I will find money today because I have already discussed with the vendor who regularly comes to buy my cucumber. He sells in town. I cannot go to town to sell the cucumber myself because I need to take care of my field most of the time; hence I always sell to middlemen.”
Mr. Tchoyo started growing cucumber in 2013 after noticing that farmers who grow cucumber have cash in the weeks between January and March, when most crops are not ready for harvest. Cash flow is a challenge for many small-scale farmers in Malawi during these months.
Patheretu Likisoni grows cucumbers in the nearby village of Nkumanyama. He says most cucumber farmers lose out on profits because they sell to vendors. He explains: “The vendors sell in different areas of Lilongwe town and they make about 100% profit. Some farmers who used to grow cucumber have now stopped growing and are now vendors because they realized that the middlemen are the ones benefitting more from cucumber farming.”
Mr. Likisoni adds that, for farmers to benefit from cucumber farming, they need to follow good agricultural practices, such as weeding, and use good seed purchased from shops. He also recommends inputs such as fertilizer and pesticides.
He says that during the harvesting period, farmers need to constantly monitor the field to avoid wasting mature cucumbers. He says, “Cucumber needs to be harvested when it’s green in colour.” When cucumbers turn yellow, people won’t buy because they don’t like the taste.
Mr. Likisoni says that pests are a challenge in cucumber farming in his area, but that farmers are meeting the challenge by using pesticides.
Mr. Tchoyo encourages farmers to start growing cucumber alongside other crops so that they can find money when cash is scarce. Most cucumber farmers in Kunthulu and nearby villages earn $0.40 to $0.80 for a dozen cucumbers. Last year, he earned about $90 US from selling cucumber to vendors. The money helped him buy maize to support his family. The price of maize skyrocketed last year due to poor harvests.
He says, “I was able to find some money on a weekly basis from cucumber sales and … I managed to buy groceries for my family.”
Photo: Martin Tchoyo harvests cucumber