CHARLIE Kepas was told by his aunt to drop out of school after Grade Six to help her farm the land.
He has never regretted his aunt’s decision. Today he is a successful watermelon farmer who is leading his family to earn a living from the land.
Charlie, 43, grew up in Ragiampun village, Markham district, Morobe. Being the youngest in a family of four, he never dreamt of dropping out of school to be a farmer.
He is now married and has two sons and three daughters.
While in Grade Six in 1989 at the Ragiampun Primary School, Charlie was pulled out of school by his aunt to help her as there was no one there to look after her gardens.
He chose to concentrate on watermelons as it matures within three months and a lot of people love it.
Charlie and 30 family members have been working hard to ensure they have enough to supply the market. He also urges others to venture into watermelon farming.
From the watermelon sales, Charlie has bought a tractor to help in plowing the soil, and a truck to transport the fruits to the market. His farming business continues to expand.
“I have been a watermelon farmer since I left school. From my efforts in planting watermelon, I shipped six container loads of watermelons to Port Moresby.
“When I came back from the nation’s capital after the sale of the watermelon, I bought the truck in 2017 to transport watermelon to the Main Market in Lae.”
“ It was a struggle at the start but and looking back at my achievement, I want to say that if we focus on only one crop, we will see the fruits of our hard work instead of involving in many crops and not achieve the goals we set.”
People often query him why he has a picture of a watermelon painted on the truck.
“My response is that the picture shows that I farm only watermelon and nothing else. That is why my efforts in growing the fruit resulted in buying the truck.”
Charlie is also distributing watermelon seeds he buys from East New Britain through his connections with the owner of Tropicana Dame Sandra Lau.
“I liaised with Lau for the seeds which she buys from Hong Kong then freights it to me. I use the seeds for my farm as well as sell them to the community.”
The current renovation of the Lae Market has temporarily affected his business as there is limited space. He cannot sell all the ripe watermelons in stock.
“When the market is completed and re-opened, I’ll be bringing in and selling more.”
He is happy to hear that the Government is focusing and investing in agriculture as an important sector in national development because of the huge potential income base it has.
He welcomes the initiative to send unemployed people in urban areas to return to their land and dig up the treasure in it.
“I came through without any support from the district and it has given me the strength not to give up.
“It was a struggle at the start but and looking back at my achievement, I want to say that if we focus on only one crop, we will see the fruits of our hard work instead of involving in many crops and not achieve the goals we set.”
The watermelons are certainly getting bigger and sweeter on Charlie’s farm.