Kitui, the sleeping food giant

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By Joseph Maina 

After s trolling in the showground for a while, I left for the trip back to town, this time with a boda boda rider who took me along Mbusyani Road. We arrived at the bridge over Kalundu River, and as we stopped to enjoy the sights, my boda boda guy asked to take me to a popular spot along the same river, where Kitui’s young and hip generation go for picnics.

So we rode back uphill a few hundred metres, branching to the right and into the Kalundu Eco Park, with its huge dam. We caught up with a few youths and couples gamboling at the site in the evening breeze, and we left shortly afterwards. I had another pleasant evening at the lounge of the Hotel Heritage, and slept soundly. The following morning, I signed out of the hotel and commenced my day’s itinerary with a courtesy visit to the county’s communications director, Mr. Munyasia, at his office.

We met shortly after 9PM, and discussed a few insights on the county’s development agenda. I discovered from our discussion that Kitui is indeed a sleeping giant, endowed with a wealth of natural resources and human labor. We talked particularly about its sand deposits, and about its coal and abundant mango farming.

Munyasia suggested a few mango- processing plants I could visit, and I bade him farewell with a promise to highlight the county’s mango farming in my narratives. Outside, Richard and I travelled to the farm of Mrs. Kasinda Kimonye who lives in Yumbisye Village, in Mulango Ward. We found her sweeping her compound and she gladly welcomed us to her home and took us round her farm.

We saw her crop of 54 grafted mango trees, then about four years old, growing on about one and a half acres. She also plants maize and cowpeas in the farm. “The market is terrible,” she lamented. “Last season they bought one apple mango for a mere Sh5. I had to sell my mangoes off anyway, just to avert loss. And for the bigger mangoes, we sold three pieces at Ksh10.” We also saw a few kienyeji mango trees in Mrs Kimonye’s farm.

Brokers from the city occasionally buy the kienyeji mangoes, again at an exploitative rate. “The brokers buy the kienyeji fruits in huge sacks, which are usually two normal sacks sewn into one. They buy such sacks for as little as Sh250.” Despite the exploitation in the hands of brokers, Mrs.

Kimonye said that there are other profitable crops in Kitui County. “Green grams do quite well, as well as beans and pigeon peas.” At the lower edge of her farm, we found a water reservoir, with a young man shoveling sand from its banks. Mrs. Kimonye explained that rainwater carries sand from the farms and carries it to water bodies in the region, which is why there is so much sand in Kitui’s rivers.

I then returned to town with Richard, and boarded a matatu to Mwingi town. Leaving Kitui town at midday, we went past Syongila junction, leaving behind us the road to Machakos. We saw plenty of fruits and vegetables on sale in the market centres we passed by, flocks of Zebu cattle and goats, maize, nappier grass and beans in the farms.

We crossed Kaayo River and then Kaui River, arriving at Kabati shopping centre shortly afterwards. At Kabati we branched into a dirt road to the right, leaving the tarmac behind us. We passed sisal and thicket, driving near Kaiveti Dam, then to Kyondoni Girls High School, onwards to Tulia market, where we saw Mutonguni hill in the distance. From Tulia, we crossed Kaui River once more, moving onwards to Muthale, which has a famous mission hospital.

We arrived at Migwani, a vibrant centre with a bustling livestock market. Here, the matatu transferred us to a Probox, where three passengers sat next to the driver. We went past Kanguutheni and other centres, emerging on the tarmac just before Mbotooni.

A short drive later, I dropped off and saw a river of nothing but sand just before Shell fuel station. I then travelled into town, ate some delicious nyama at Nyama Choma Café, bought some muthokoi at Sh50 a kilo and travelled by Buscar via Thika to Nairobi, paying Sh400 for the journey.

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