Amazing crop success for local farmers

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Standing among the sky high stalks covered with empty husks, Paul Irungu and Handson Nhanhanga shared a moment of pride and relief as their first season of maize harvesting came to an end.

A staple in African cuisine, maize is widespread across the continent and grown in most households.

Mr Irungu and Mr Nhanhanga grew maize in their respective home countries of Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Living in the region for the past 10 years, Mr Nhanhanga began growing African maize on his property in Congupna after being unable to easily find the vegetable locally.

Working in aged care nursing, he came in contact with a Rotary Club of Shepparton Central member who happened to strike up a conversation about African culture.

Mr Nhanhanga shared his plans to grow more maize and his interest in finding some land to begin the venture.

‘‘He asked people at a Rotary club meeting if they could help us,’’ he said.

‘‘We needed something that didn’t need a lot of work.’’

Roy and Meryl Hill welcomed the pair onto their Kialla property, interested in learning more about the produce.

Across 30 years, the Hills had done a number of projects on the same plot of land. However, maize was an unknown for the couple.

‘‘I was interested in helping and we had some water,’’ Mr Hill said.

‘‘I met them and we agreed to try a little project and they took it on.’’

Mr Hill said it was interesting to see the pair, along with their wives and children do the large task by hand.

‘‘It was really interesting to watch them doing it in the traditional way,’’ Mr Hill said.

‘‘The results were just fantastic, they had a great crop.’’

Mr Irungu and Mr Nhanhanga planted about 35000 seeds, which produced about 7200 cobs of maize.

‘‘We did well for the first time,’’ Mr Irungu said.

The pair said the conditions for the crop were good due to flood irrigation on the land as well as the time of year. ‘‘As long as the ground is wet and there is a lot of warmth,’’ Mr Nhanhanga said.

‘‘That’s why we had to plant in October.’’

Mr Irungu and Mr Nhanhanga said the major difference between their produce and the Australian common corn was the colour.

‘‘This one is not sweet, but it tastes better,’’ Mr Nhanhanga said.

‘‘Mostly people just love it barbecued and on the cob.’’

‘‘It’s also very good for people (with) diabetes, because the yellow one is sweet and it can spike their diabetes,’’ Mr Irungu said.

‘‘When it’s green and not too dry, it can be boiled and you can have it the way it is.

‘‘We like to sell them when they are still green.’’

Ready to eat in February, the pair and their families worked tirelessly to complete the harvest.

Advertising the maize on social media, they were surprised about the overwhelming response from across Australia.

Best used in the first 24 hours after being plucked, Mr Irungu and Mr Nhanhanga began the arduous task of personally delivering the produce across the country.

‘‘We were finishing work at 5pm, we would come and pluck them, pack them and then drive overnight to Adelaide and Sydney,’’ Mr Nhanhanga said.

‘‘A lot of people were coming from Melbourne to come and buy.

‘‘It was very popular.’’

Mr Irungu said they would also make visits to the farm at about 5.30am to harvest in the morning if they were making a trip to Melbourne.

Mr Irungu and Mr Nhanhanga said people were reaching out from Brisbane, Perth and Alice Springs. However, postage was too difficult and expensive.

Mr Nhanhanga believed there were only two other farms — one in Wagga Wagga and the other in Sydney — producing this crop.

The high demand from African communities across Australia has inspired the pair to expand their business, hoping to extend across the whole acre paddock at the Hills’ property, with staggered harvesting periods.

‘‘We’re gonna go step by step and continue growing bigger and bigger,’’ Mr Irungu said.