In Summary
  • The farm belongs to Samson M’Rinkanya (now deceased), who planted the 500 coconut trees of the East African Tall varieties in 1973.
  • Mzee M’Rinkanya was a businessman dealing in mnazi drink in Mombasa and he decided to try out growing coconut in his native home in Meru.
  • There are two varieties of coconut, the East African Tall and the dwarf varieties.
  • Innocent Masira, a marketer at the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate, says coconut farming is not doing well in Meru because of the crop’s traditional uses, which are associated with the coastal people.

The towering trees in Makandune village near the Mututa swamp in Central Imenti, Meru County, form a huge canopy that is visible from far.

Anyone driving along the road marvels at the tall trees, the only one of its kind in the region.

The trees are part of a vast coconut plantation that sits on 10 acres.

The farm belongs to Samson M’Rinkanya (now deceased), who planted the 500 coconut trees of the East African Tall varieties in 1973.

The coconut farm is now under the keen watch of Mwambo Gambo, who hails from Mombasa, and is employed as the caretaker.

“Mzee M’Rinkanya was a businessman dealing in mnazi drink in Mombasa and he decided to try out growing coconut in his native home in Meru. They did well,” he says.

Makandune is warm and humid, with temperatures often rising to 28 degrees Celsius, creating the perfect ecological conditions for coconut farming.

“Coconuts are grown directly by planting the seeds in the field or first raising the seedlings in a nursery before transplanting,” says Gambo.

On Mzee M’Rinkinya’s farm, both methods were used to test the waters. Gambo dug planting holes to a depth of three feet and planted the seedlings.

VARIETIES OF COCONUT

The seed nuts of the East African Tall variety germinate in about 60 days after sowing.

“We mixed the top loam soil with compost manure and partly filled planting holes of about 0.9m depth with good spacing between plants. Too much water causes the seedlings to rot,” Gambo explains.

Each of the 500 trees on the farm produces between 75 and 100 fruits.

“There are two varieties of coconut, the East African Tall and the dwarf varieties. The former starts to bear fruits at 5-7 years for up to 80 years while the dwarf variety produces fruits at 3-4 years for up to 40 years. Our coconuts are harvested after every three months and are sold locally at Sh10 each.”

Well thriving coconut trees in the late Mzee Samson M’Rinkanya's farm in Meru County.

Well thriving coconut trees in the late Mzee Samson M’Rinkanya's farm in Meru County. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

They also tap palm wine from the flower part of the coconut inflorescence. The juice is then stored at room temperature and automatically ferments, because of its high sugar content, to become alcohol.

To harvest, one has to climb up a tree to cut the coconut fruits.

Locals, however, are yet to fully embrace coconut eating the reason why prices are low, though they enjoy the wine Gambo makes.

“A majority love the mnazi wine. The crop has multiple uses. Apart from the edible flesh and the juice in the fruit, its leaves are woven to make roofs for houses, the mid ribs of leaves makes brooms and fibres from the husks are woven to make ropes and carpets while the spathes are used as seats,” Gambo says, noting they are only farming the coconuts in honour of Mzee M’Rinkinya since there is little market for the produce.

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