Category Archives: Agripreneur

Agripreneur Blog

Elbagon Farmer Finds New Business in Potato Seed Multiplication

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Farmers in Kenya are increasingly becoming smart in identifying innovative ventures to earn a living thanks to the training that enables them to identify new agribusiness opportunities that have high returns with fewer investments.

Among them are potato farmers. While a majority of them are growing the second basic crop for consumers, there are those who have identified a cash cow in seed multiplication for fellow producers.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, to date, the country has a capacity of producing 6,700 metric tonnes of potato seeds to farmers against the demand of 30,000 metric tons annually.

Richard Mbaria, a farmer from Elbagon in Molo Nakuru County is one such farmers who has identified the gap is currently investing in multiplying the planting materials for other farmers.

Richard started agribusiness after five years of growing maize and beans for subsistence purposes. 

However, beginning mid last year, he decided to venture into commercial potato production on a quarter an acre by investing Sh20,000.

After the first season, he harvested 30 bags of 100kg which he sold at Sh2,000 per bag, in the second season he increases the acreage under the crop to 1.5 acres and harvested 100 bags of the same measure which he sold at Sh1,500 each.

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Although this encouraged him, he says that there are high price fluctuations as the market is still dictated by brokers and therefore, he has decided to venture into seed multiplication.

“I will now be selling the seeds to farmers directly avoiding middlemen who scoop much of our profit. I will also be cutting the production cost for the farmers who have to travel all the way to Naivasha to buy the seeds,” said Richard.

In this, he invested only Sh1,500 to buy 150 tissue culture seedlings of Sangi variety from Stockman Rozen Ltd, a seed production company in Naivasha at Sh10 each.

By involving Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) for certification purposes to ensure that his area of production is free from pests and diseases, he has planted the seedlings expecting to harvest his first bunch by mid-April.

“I am targeting farmers who want to start planting with the onset of the long rains this month because most of the farmers around are still depending on rainfed agriculture,” he said.

He looks forward to harvesting between 50 and 80 bags of 50kg each of potato seeds.

According to his little market research, KEPHIS certified seeds sell at Sh100 per kilo but he may sell him at Sh80 per kilo which may earn him at least Sh200,000.

Since 2012 KEPHIS has developed 51 varieties of potato seeds to boost production with 33 from Dutch breeding companies, 17 varieties from Kenyan breeders, and one from Scotland with imports of 602,450kg of seed.

Reports by the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) states that in Africa only 20 per cent of the potato farmers use quality and certified planting materials, which has been dwindling yields.

But for Richard, he is happy that the over 200 farmers whom he works with within the region will have better seedlings by the onset of the season.

He is one of those farmers who have undergone the Farm to Market Alliance training program by Kuza Biashara in collaboration with Cereal Growers Association (CGA) something which has turned him into an Agribusiness Advisor.

“With this new venture we are looking into producing quality and quantity potatoes for bigger companies shortly and be able to avoid brokers completely,” said Richard.


Agripreneur Blog business Entrepreneurial Stories

Women groups growing their enterprises by cheap loans

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In Kenya, for many years women in business especially in the rural areas have had it hard accessing financial support from various financial institutions which see their businesses as more vulnerable to risks.

This, according to experts, has been attributed to women’s limited financial literacy, lack of clarity of bank terms of access and the inability to provide collateral or personal guarantees.

However, things are changing for the better for these women thanks to efforts to train rural women on bookkeeping skills to increase their financial literacy, facilitated workshops to link women-led businesses and financial institutions, such as national and county government affirmative funds, banks and microfinance institutions.

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Madaraka Self Help Group, for instance, is a group of over 10 women members from Kimutwa in Machakos County who came together after noticing that over-relying on their husbands who are casual workers to win daily bread and other family needs were becoming too much.

From their small casual engagements, the women decided to form joint saving and group (Chama) investments with the desire to improve the quality of life for their families.

“Our main objectives included pulling together financial resources for investments, non-collateral loans to members and to use the group as an opportunity to access government and non -governmental benefits which can only be channelled through a group,” said the group chairlady.

By 2013, the group had collectively saved Sh300,000 which at the beginning of 2014, they decided to spend part to purchase water tanks of 3,000-litre capacity for each member to end their water challenges. This left the group with Sh70,000.

When Konza sub-location Chama chairman called for the training of all the groups in the location in April that year, Madaraka Self Help Group which was also represented invited officers from Women Enterprise Fund (WEF) officer from Machakos Town to give them more training.

This would become the group’s connection to credit source for a project that would later lift their livelihoods.

At the end of the training, the group successfully applied for Sh100,000 from WEF which they used to lease an acre piece of land, buy some water pumps and pipes and began growing tomatoes.

 

Their first sale of the crop was in mid-2015 when the group sold tomatoes worth Sh400,000, with expenses of Sh159 000 thus making a profit of Sh241, 000 enabling them to repay the loan and apply for the second funding of Sh200,000.

This came in February 2016 which they used part to lease another acre of land and the rest in production as they had two acres so far.

As per their expectation, they were able to earn Sh800,000 making the group be worth Sh550,000 after repaying their second loan and other expenses which include some two farmhands and casual labourers.

78With the increasing income, the members have so far decided to use part of their savings to begin individual members businesses such as foodstuff shops, charcoal selling businesses and motorbike businesses.

They can now contribute to their family needs and Improve their livelihoods without necessarily depending on their husbands for financial support.

For Tushibe Mtama Women Group in Nakuru’s Rongai Constituency, they took their first loan of Sh50, 000 in 2010 to start in the bakery business.

The group which has been growing sweet potato seemed to have found a solution to their market woes because since they used the money to buy an oven, they have established their business of baking cookies, buns and cakes from the produce’s flour and tubers. 

As they repay their previous loans, they become more eligible for more loans and funding, which has enabled them to increase the acreage under sweet potato production and improve their value addition enterprise.

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Since registered with the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), they have developed product labels and packaging that is now enabling them to reach their goods to formal markets and improve their incomes.

Interestingly, the group members livelihoods have also improved and they can support their families.


Agripreneur Blog

Young woman who quit her job for sweet potato farming in Homa Bay, enjoying her move

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Jael Ochanji is one of the few youths who have made an unpopular decision among the young people- to leave her job and move from the city to a rural home just to grow sweet potato, a step she never regrets.

The 39 years old mother of two was working for milk powerhouse, Brookside Dairy Limited as a sales representative in Nairobi, a job which earned her Sh50,000 a month.

After working for about 10 years, in 2015 she decided to resign and got involved in sweet potato brokerage in Nairobi’s Wakulima Market.

She would work in connection with her mother who arranged for the tubers from their rural home in Kabondo, Homa Bay County and send them to her in the city.

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“Sweet potatoes do well in our rural home but farmers just rely on open-air markets in the village which do not have enough buyers.  My work in the city, therefore, involved looking for the market as mum collects the produce from growers and we arrange for transport,” said Jael.

For two years, the young lady was able to connect with many buyers including Uchumi Supermarket where she had won a supply tender.

Unfortunately, when her mother got ill in 2017 and could not do much work, she decided to go back to the village and to get involved in the serious production of both white and the much-cherished orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

“As much as I had to source the produce from other farmers, producing it myself seemed more reliable and profitable so that I do not disappoint my customers in the city,” she said.

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She used some of her savings to lease more farms and today she has 20 acres of family land and 35 other acres that are leased for crop production.

Jael has mastered crop production saying that since the white variety takes three months to mature while the orange-fleshed takes five months, she has to spread her planting schedule to ensure steady harvesting throughout the year.

Before planting the vines, she makes ridges or mounds which helps in conserving soil moisture, reducing soil erosion, making harvesting easier and improving yields.

As most farms in the area are still fertile, she only uses manure to grow the potatoes since most consumers today prefer organically produced foods.

“Kabondo is well known for fertile soil as the area is at the foot of Kisii highlands and besides we receive rainfall almost throughout the year making our products all year round,” said Jael.

Sweet potatoes have a short maturity period of 3-7 months and because of their short duration, it is very strategic for addressing food insecurity.

However, according to Jael, most of the crops consumed locally are imported from either Uganda or Tanzania as local farmers who are majorly smallholders cannot produce enough especially during dry seasons.

“Fortunately, Kenyan consumers love our home-grown yellow and white sweet potatoes for food because they are tasty, rich in nutrients and they do not become soggy when cooked like other varieties,” said Jael.

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Today, she transports over 80 80kg sacks of sweet potato every week to Wakulima Market which is her main selling point since Uchumi stopped buying due to its sorry economic state.

She sells a bag at Sh3,500 (minimum price) but during high demand, the price can shoot up to Sh7,000 a bag against Sh1,500 in rural markets since almost every home has some sweet potato farm.

This translates to Sh280,000 during low demand and Sh560,000 in high demand selling in Nairobi.

She spends a total of Sh18,000 in planting, weeding and harvesting. Hiring casual labourers for packing the produce in tracks costs her Sh5,000 while transporting a sack costs her Sh500.

The agro-entrepreneur who has since come up with her company also sells an average of seven bags of sweet potato vines at Sh1,500 each per week to farmers and livestock feed processors from every part of the country.

“I can now cater for my family needs besides running other projects as part of future investments,” said Jael.

She plans to put up a sweet potato processing plant to process different products and enable her and other farmers from the region to access direct market to their produce.

 


Agripreneur Blog

Youth manufacturing affordable growing medium from coconut waste

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Of course, you must have heard them say that necessity is the mother of invention, meaning, when the need for something becomes essential, you are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it.

This is the situation James Kapombe Kasemo, 28, found himself about six years ago when he was growing tomatoes using coco peat, a soilless growing medium for different horticulture crops.

Since there was no company in Kenya manufacturing the medium, it forced Kapombe under Casemo Foods, a company that he had started in 2014 after graduation for horticulture crops production to import the product from Sri Lanka.

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“I was buying the coco peats at Sh800-900 a kilo before factoring in the import fees. Besides I had to wait for a fortnight to receive the goods and this killed our production forcing me to think of an alternative,” said the 2014 Bsc. Actuarial Science graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

So, after two years in operation, Casemo Foods was closed, and Kapombe researched how coco peats can be manufactured.

His main motivation was the fact that coconut husks, the waste products which are the key raw materials in the production of the medium are always cheaply available in the coastal region including in Mariakani, Kilifi County where he had established his business.

In June 2017, Kapombe upon completing his research decided to rebrand Casemo Foods to Coco Grow and proceeded to invest Sh800,000 to set the new company in Mariakani Town.

Other than being forced to import his first manufacturing machine, the other challenge that faced the firm at its initial stage was unstable electricity supply.

Nevertheless, in 2018 the company managed to secure their production certificate from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) kicking its production in tonnes per day.

Today, the company which is fast growing has turned to contract local engineers to fabricate its production machines instead of importing.

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“We love promoting local skill and other businesses too, that is why instead of spending much in importing the machines, we rather buy them here,” said Kapombe.

The company which has since doubled its production as compared to where they started, packages coco peats in 30-kilogram bags and selling a kilo at Sh33 minus VAT which is way much cheaper as compared to importing the product.

Their main customers come from Kericho, Bungoma, Thika, Nairobi and the Coastal region among other places that buy on order. They have also started exporting the product to other countries especially within the East African region.

“After growing a good customer network in Kenya, we are speedily moving to conquer East Africa before spreading wider to other parts of the continent shortly.

The company set in the local coastal town is now providing jobs for many people, especially the youth who always find themselves jobless and move to bigger towns and cities in such formal jobs.

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“We started with just two permanent employees and six casual labourers whom we hired from time to time. Today, our workforce has really increased following the improvement in terms of business,” said Kapombe who is now the CEO of CocoGrow besides being the founder.

So far CocoGrow has been featured among the 15 Most Promising Startups at a past Nairobi Innovation Week event and Unleash Innovation Lab, Denmark among other competitions.

Kapombe is now looking into starting a mattress plant using the same coconut by-products, after leading the firm to be the best producer of coco peats in Africa to improve sustainable production in food systems.


Agripreneur Blog business

Meru Duo Breaks Through Financial Challenges to Build an Agribusiness Empire

15. Muriithi. Photo by NMG

Access to agricultural financing has always been a problem for most smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa due to the high risks associated with the sector especially in the wake of global climate change.

In fact, financial institutions such as banks do not disburse loans to the growers without surety and most of the time the interests charged are always high limiting many of them.

Because of this, many of these small-scale farmers turn to their friends, family members, relatives, and farmer groups for capital.

This is the situation in which Musa Muriithi and his brother Edward Mucheni found themselves three years ago when they wanted to raise some money to start an agribusiness venture.

According to Muriithi, it all started when he wanted a loan of Sh0.5m from a financial institution and all he had as a surety was a 3.5-acre piece of family land in Meru County.

As the institution delayed taking him through rigorous processes, he decided to look for a private land evaluator who told him that the land had a much higher value than the money he was looking for.

He, therefore, decided to consult with his brother Mucheni and the duo agreed to spend some of their savings to buy 200 banana tissue plants.

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They panted and after the plants did so well, they decided to incorporate poultry, rabbit farming and fish production.

‘’The reason to begin this way was the idea we had to use the rich-in-minerals fish pond water and manure from the livestock to grow arrowroots, passion fruits farm, mangoes and the bananas,” said Muriithi.

They would soon spend the money drawn from poultry, fish and bananas to construct four greenhouses; two that major purely on strawberries, one has garden peas while the last one has assorted crops that range from cucumbers, beetroots and courgettes.

They have so far inter-cropped cassava and mangoes in one part of the farm while the other has tree tomatoes.

‘’The benefit of the tree tomatoes is that once they matured, we can harvest throughout the year and they require little attention,” said Machine.

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According to him, the fruits’ market is also good and the farm cannot even satisfy the demand from Jatomy and Maguna Andu supermarkets in Chuka town they supply to.

These many integrated farm productions cushion us from price fluctuations in that in case of the glut of one commodity the other could be in great demand, he said.

The two have also gone into dairy goat farming to tap into the animals’ rich nutritional milk spiking its demand among consumers to supplement their income.

Beekeeping at the edge of the farm to increase their crops’ pollination besides harvesting honey for income is something the duo have not forgotten.

They have also learnt to turn farm weeds and wastes into valuable products for sale or using within the farm.

For instance, banana trunks are mixed with wastes from the poultry, rabbits and goats’ farm and are all preserved in a pit to make compost manure.

‘’This style of farming is rewarding and before embarking on it, one should do proper research to know what is working and does not besides knowing your markets well,’’ said Muriithi.

The farm they have since named Kagumo-Hort farm is indeed a host of activities, making it a frequented place by customers and learners.


Agripreneur Blog

Homa Bay Youth Discovers Affordable Animal Feed from Lake Victoria’s Water Hyacinth

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The cost of animal feeds in Kenya has become all-time high, raising farmers’ cost and consequently the cost of various commodities.

This, according to the Association of Kenya Feeds Manufacturers (AKEFEMA) is due to the shortage of maize which is the chief raw material in manufacturing the vital product.

The latest figures indicate that the retail price of a 70-kilogramme pack of chick mash, for example, now sells at Sh3,600 from Sh3,300 while that of growers goes at Sh3,100 from Sh2,800.

These high prices pushed Jack Oyugi Omondi, an entrepreneur from Homa Bay County, to research how to make a cheap animal feed from Lake Victoria’s invasive water hyacinth.

“During the dry season when other greens are exhausted, I used to see cows eat the hyacinth but not as much because of an irritating substance in the leaves. This is where the idea of how it could be improved through processing to make it more palatable for animals came,” said Oyugi.

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In 2016, Oyugi, a biotechnologist, started his research and development to make a product that was appealing and safe for animals from the irritating weed.

The resulting product was then sent for testing both at the University of Nairobi and the Netherlands before a pilot study on animals from selected areas in Homa Bay and Meru Counties.

He then discovered that the feed increased milk production by 20 per cent while costing half as much as traditional feeds.

In partnership with SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, Oyugi in 2018 launched Biofit Technologies, a firm through which he now manufacturers the animal feed.

“To be able to push my agenda further, I brought in a veterinarian, a livestock nutritionist, and a crop scientist and together we partnered with government institutions, parastatals, and non-governmental organizations in Kenya and across the world,” said Oyugi.

The Biofit animal feed, which has 55 per cent proteins also boosts the yields of all meat, eggs and other animal products by at least 15 per cent.

Though the hyacinth is the main binding agent besides contributing at least 10 per cent of the protein content, other ingredients are added in.

“We also add dagga and other plant-based ingredients to the meal for a variety of animals’ nutritional needs for productivity and protection against mineral deficiency and diseases,” said the entrepreneur.

Farmers in the region now buy a kilogram of the meal at about Sh25 compared to about Sh40 per kilogram of the common commercial feeds.

Job creation

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From just four people at its launch in 2018, Biofit has grown to eight full-time employees and four other casual workers.

“This team,” says Oyugi, “Consists of four highly skilled individuals with a background of research and entrepreneurship.”

In addition, since water hyacinth impedes fishing activities, Biofit has contracted 20 fishermen to harvest 300 kilograms of the weed daily, creating a new source of income for them.

The enterprise also boosts women’s incomes by hiring them to do sun-drying of the plant.

“Today, we pride ourselves as being the first company in Kenya to harness water hyacinth and convert it into animal feeds.”


Agripreneur Blog

Former graphic designer tuns dairy goat side hustle into a lucrative venture

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Between 2000 and 2015 Charles Wathobio was a renowned graphic designer producing newspapers and magazines in his small enterprise in Madaraka, Nairobi which used to earn him about Sh60,000 per month.

Unaware of the full potential of dairy goats, in 2005 he decided to keep some two at the backyard of his Rongai home which sat on a 0.25-acre piece of the plot.

‘’Away from my main business, I wanted something which could keep me busy and earn me some income and further reducing my budget on foodstuffs. This is why I settled on the goats when I realised they are easy to rear,’’ said Wathobio.

Luckily enough the goats would multiply very fast and the plot seemed small to accommodate them so he started selling mature bucks of 12 months old at Sh15,000 each. This encouraged him.

‘’I realised that the goats were becoming way more profitable than I had thought. Under proper management, one goat can give birth to triplets and 3-4 litres of milk especially within 4 to 6 weeks after kidding,’’ said Wathobio.

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Other than family consumption, he sold one litre of goat milk at Sh200 and above earning him about Sh50,000 per month out of the six goats he was milking.

He, therefore, decided to move his flock back to his rural home in Othaya, Nyeri County where there is enough space to increase his production.

After some online research and attending farmer events where he could learn more about breeding, feeding and the general management of the animals, he decided, around 2016 to abandon design work in town to concentrate on his dairy goat production.

‘’I came to a decision to invest Sh100,000 of my savings into the farming to increase by building a bigger and proper structure. I was convinced of its viability and the fact that it could also give me time to engage in other farm productions,’’ said Wathobio.

Given goats give birth to twins and triplets, in one year his stock had doubled and in in the subsequent two years, he had over 20 goats.

About five years down the line, he has totally changed from a renowned designer in town to become a renowned breeder in the country and beyond supplying bucks to his customers in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.

He rears Alpine breed within his five acres piece of land in Othaya. “Alpine dairy goats are the best to rear because they are resistant to tropical diseases,” he said.

To get healthy goats, Wathobio uses artificial insemination. This makes his bucks to be of high demand by other farmers who are always in need of the males for breeding.

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‘’I rarely keep bucks as they are in constant demand. This is because I have personally mastered the art of breeding the flock to meet market standards,’’ he said.

He sells a mature served does at between Sh20,000 and Sh25,000 each depending on the animal’s pregnancy stage while bucks which are between 12 and 18 months old, he sells at between Sh15,000 and Sh18,000 each.

He markets his animals via Facebook and WhatsApp groups whereby upon payment by his customers, he takes it upon himself to deliver the animals at a fee depending on the delivery points.

Wathobio also sells milk and yoghurt made from goat milk at Sh100 and Sh400 per litre respectively.

Currently, his stock stands at 40 goats out of which he milks about 30. Each gives between 1-3 litres a day.

His venture has so far grown. Today, he never struggles looking for a market because for a long time he has worked tediously to grow his wider customer base and now he estimates that in a month he can earn up to between Sh200,000 and Sh300,000 gross income.

‘’I have since partnered with a group of farmers and agro-entrepreneurs in the area to build a goat milk processing plant to provide market for enterprising farmers in the region,” said the 48-year-old farmer.


Agripreneur Blog business

Process of becoming an organic farmer in Kenya

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Since 1950s during the Green Revolution when there was an upsurge in crop yields due to introduction of chemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost crop production, the use of natural means to grow crops have become less popular among farmers.

However, despite the potential of the convectional type of farming in boosting crop production, the use of these synthetic fertilisers and pesticides have been found to be the main cause of environmental degradation and worse of all, food contamination.

It is because of this that many consumers especially from the west are now moving towards organically grown food crops as consumers are shying away from crops laden with pesticides.

The trend is slowly picking up in Kenya due to lack of proper mechanisms to control pesticide use in farms despite concerns of the risks they pose.

This has created increasing demand for organic foods as Kenyans especially of middle class drifting towards consumption of these foodstuffs.

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Even as many farmers are now trying to adopt the use of natural processes, compost manure and biological pest control methods to boost soil fertility or manage pests and diseases to cash in the growing demand of organic foods, there is need for them to follow due process to be able to trade well with their foodstuffs both locally and internationally.

Organic farming certification process

For farmers to be able to sell they organic produce especially in the export market, it is a requirement that they register their enterprises with the world governing body, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) which has its presence in almost every part of the globe.

In Kenya, IFOAM is represented by EnCert Limited.

According to EnCert, the process of certification starts by the producer changing his or her mind-set to go organic then applies for certification by filling a form from EnCert for organic farming. The form is available online.

After submission and verification, EnCert inspectors then come to the respective farm or enterprise of the applicant to verify if the producer adheres with the organic production requirements.

Among the things they check on include record keeping, the surrounding and inside of the farm/enterprise, seed and seed treatments, fertilizer and plant protection scheme, storage facility and finally packaging and labelling of the produce.

If the inspector is satisfied with all the above conditions, he or she presents the findings to the registration committee for approval. 

If the committee approves the enterprise, the owner is issued with an international number and later organic farming certificate is issued.

The certificate is thereafter required to be renewed annually.

Now, because this can be tedious for small-scale farmers, it is recommended that they may come together and produce intensively for domestic markets as they advance to international markets.

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“This can be a good beginning,” said Ronnie Vernooy, a Genetic Resource Policy Specialist at Bioversity International adding that such farmers can work in groups, specialise in producing particular crops and target specific markets.

Meanwhile they can work closely with Kenya Organic Agriculture Network (KOAN) which can help in knowledge building among other support. This is because there has been less recognition of Kenyan organic farmers despite the pick-up of organic farming in recent years.

According to Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), one of the world’s leading institutes in the field of organic agriculture, organic farmland in Africa has doubled in area in the last decade, to 2.1m hectares, with the biggest organic centres in East and North Africa and the crops they grow enjoyed the world over.

But, in Kenya, certification of smallholders who avoid synthetic fertilisers and pesticides has remained difficult due to a lack of information, scant government support and the high cost of getting certifying documents.

To become a member of KOAN or Association of Organic Agriculture Practitioners of Kenya, which helps in training of organic farmers and facilitation of the certification process, farmer groups pay a Sh10,000 registration fee.


Agripreneur Blog Entrepreneurial Stories

Former matatu driver finds comfort in agribusiness

Former matatu driver finds comfort in agribusiness

Not only in Kenya, across East Africa public transport popularly known as matatu sector remains synonymous with chaos and disarray with unpredictable operation system, poor handling of passengers, bad conditions and unreliability.

Especially in major towns and cities such as Nairobi, chaos, impunity and disorder in the sector reign supreme making the lives of commuters and operators daily encounters with the bad and ugly of the public transport.

This is the environment that Alex Macharia found himself in as a matatu driver in Nairobi from 2010 to 2012 earning Sh500 a day. 

Tired with the chaotic culture, he would leave the city to Nakuru Town to work as an employee in a retail shop for another two years. This too would not offer him the comfort he yearned for.

With his little savings from the two jobs, he would soon leave to his rural home at Elburgon in Nakuru County where he leased an acre of land for maize production.

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‘’I was lucky to get ready buyers with Njoro Millers but because I could not produce enough, I formed a group with five other farmers who would bring to me 10 90kg bags each then combine with my 15 90kg bags before supplying to the miller,’’ said Alex.

The group grew up slowly and they started venturing into other crops such as French beans and snow peas as they kept their traditional maize production.

After being trained on safe and effective use of pesticides, in 2017 Alex was chosen by Frigoken Ltd (FKL), a Nairobi-based export-oriented vegetable processing company and which they supplied the produce as a technical assistance (TA) to help farmers with agronomy practices.

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His first big challenges as trainer was how to convince farmers to work with him and transporting them to a place of training but persistence has seen him overcome.

“Farmers always have their reasons to doubt new organisations, Alex says, ‘’But all depends on how you treat both old and new comers to slowly build their trust.’’

He has since increased the number of farmers he is working with from just the five he started with to 3,000 currently.

As a great boost in his business, last year when he first interacted with FarmtoMarket Alliance program by Kuza Biashara and Cereal Growers Association (CGA) where he was further taught on managing farmers and customers, understanding markets, managing income and expenses, making farm budgets and records and savings through SACCOs among others.

The program has turned him into a community agribusiness advisor (AA) by giving farmers proper trainings on the areas that are key in their production such as accessing affordable farm inputs, proper use of the farm inputs, harvesting and marketing of their produce.

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‘’The program has linked us to may agribusiness stakeholders including financiers and buyers through capacity building. Personally, I now own a motorized sprayer courtesy of the connections brought about by the program,’’ said Alex. 

Today, Alex and his team are harvesting 2,000 kilos of French beans twice a week and the same for snow peas. 

He says that at the beginning of the first harvest they can only realise 700 kilos of French beans but as it approaches the peak, they can harvest up to seven tonnes twice a week.

Besides maize, French beans and snow peas, they also grow potatoes. The group sells French beans at Sh50 per kilo, snow peas at Sh65 a kilo while potatoes go at Sh30 per kilo.

Alex’s immediate future plan is to own an agrovet through which he can stock farm inputs such as fertiliser, herbicide and pesticides and supply them to farmers at a subsidised cost.


Agripreneur Blog

Amaranth, a wonder crop that can fetch over Sh300,000 per acre in 45-120 days

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In 2018 the government of Kenya moved to stem over-reliance on maize and subsequent consumption of ugali by introducing a policy to push maize millers to blend maize flour with other local nutritious grains to curb malnutrition.

Among the grains which were recommended for the fortification were amaranth grains and since then the initiative coupled with the health benefits of the grains have seen farmers grow the crop which was previously regarded as a common weed to make quick and good cash.

In fact, according to a 2018 research on Efforts to Promote Amaranth Production and Consumption in Uganda to Fight Malnutrition, amaranth grains have protein content of 12-13 per cent, which is higher than that of most cereal grains making it the most sort after grain globally.

Nutritionists assert that the grains are best for cancer and diabetic patients as it is a good source of fiber, protein, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron, along with several other important micronutrients. It can be used to make animal feeds and skin cosmetics.

The grains can be roasted and eaten as such or grounded to produce flour to make chapati, porridge, cakes, cookies, bread muffins, pasta pancakes, crackers, and fortify maize meal flour.

The green fresh leaves can be cooked and eaten as vegetable as they are good source of good source of protein, pro-vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber.

Possible returns

Now, grain amaranth has two main varieties, the short and tall varieties recommended for low and high rainfall areas. Maturity occurs in 45 – 60 days for early maturing (short) varieties while late maturing (tall) varieties take 70- 120 days.

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Generally, the two drought tolerant varieties can yield an average of 800 –1200 kilogram per acre and can fetch Sh200-300 per kilo by local companies which process and sell grain amaranth products.

This translates to up to Sh360,000 in 45-120 days whatever the variety a farmer choses to grow.

According to Carolyne Okello, an amaranth farmer from Ringa Kakelo in Homa Bay County, amaranth grains fetched Sh150 a kilo about four years ago when she started the venture but things have since changed.

“In 2016 when I started amaranth farming, I could sell the grains at Sh150 or even less in local markets but following the pickup in demand even by food processors, the price currently is between Sh200 and Sh300 a kilo,” said Carolyne adding that she is now doing six acres from an acre she did previously.

From the acreage she harvests 30-35 90kg bags of amaranth grains translating to 3150kg which if she sells at Sh300 per kilo gives her Sh945,000 gross income.

For Philip Odhiambo, another farmer from the area, the hardy crop can grow almost in any environment, including the wild, after germination.

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“Amaranth is a giant crop, which ‘oppresses’ other plants in farms when it is a weed. Because of this, even with little attention, it is likely to do well,” said Philip. 

When planting, Philip recommends three to four seeds in a very shallow hole at a spacing of 75cm by 25cm.

As a direct competitor to maize flour, amaranth flour has a major advantage: it already contains so many nutrients that it does not need to be fortified, making it a more cost-effective option, not to mention a healthier one.


Agripreneur Blog

High school leaver striking gold with earthworm farming

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As the cost of education continues to rise, many children from poor families in Kenya find it difficult to advance to the higher levels of education due to a lack of school fees.

In fact, the increasing education costs are pushing the global goal of “Education for All” (EFA) beyond the reach of more and more children from less advantaged households, leading to a steady increase in the number of dropouts. 

This is the situation in which George Muturi found himself in 2013 after completing his secondary education and found that he could not proceed to higher levels due to lack of fees.

However, this would not discourage the young man from pursuing other means of becoming successful in life. Poverty seemed to have locked his way to pursuing his education but not his mind to reason.

He, therefore, decided to venture in vermiculture (rearing of earthworms), an idea sold to him in 2015, two years after hustling in poultry farming, by an officer at International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) when he went to buy black soldier eggs to hatch, raise them to larvae stage and feed his chicken. 

Within a portion of family land in Lari, Kiambu County, he would make a structure worth Sh500 before buying some starter worms at Sh2,500 from a fellow farmer.

“This is how cheap I discovered starting off in vermiculture would cost me and I wasted no time,” said Muturi adding that the worms just feed on household or farm wastes which they convert into affordable organic fertiliser called vermicompost that he sells to other farmers for crop production.

“Together with vermiliquid, an organic foliar, the two products are liked by farmers especially those who run kitchen gardens as the dark, rich, earthly smelling fertilizer and foliar amends soils given they are full of both primary and micronutrients readily available to plants,” said the vermiculturist.

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Indeed, worm casting also improves the physical property of the soil by improving the tilt, ferocity and moisture-holding capacity of the soil according to Dr Freddie Acosta, a Senior Lecturer of Technology and Innovation Management at Strathmore Business School.

Besides, adding vermicompost and vermiliquid to the soil reduces insect pests and plant diseases in a certain field and greenhouse crops including corn, wheat, pea, cucumber, and tomato.

Now, one kilogram of earthworms (approx. 1500 worms) fed very well and given the right moisture and protection from predators at the beginning of January, can multiply and increase their number to approximately 4000 kilograms at the end of December.

After a year of rearing, a farmer can produce up to three tonnes of organic fertiliser every day.

For Muturi, he harvests 100-150 kilos of vermicompost and 80-100 litres of vermiliquid a month. He sells a kilo of vermicompost at Sh70 and a litre of vermiliquid at Sh150 resulting to Sh25,500 a month.

He also sells the 10 kilos of the worms to other farmers every month at Sh2,000 making Sh20,000 a month.

Besides red worms, he has also started domesticating African Nightcrawlers which are also excellent vermicomposting and fishing worms.

He has since started his own startup, Agri-Tech Organic Farm through which he is designing a simple three-in-one vermiculture system for kitchen gardeners using three buckets that enable the farmers to rear the worms and collect vermicompost and vermiliquid in separate buckets.

Only three buckets of twenty litres capacity with a wider top and narrow bottom, rabbit manure and five kilos of starter-worms worth Sh2,500 is a good point to start from.

The buckets are inserted into each other in such a way that they do not touch each other at the bottom.

 

21The topmost bucket in which the worms, rabbit manure and fresh organic wastes such as fruit and vegetable remains are placed is covered at the top and some holes made on the upper sides for letting in the fresh air.

The worms, rabbit manure and fresh organic wastes are sandwiched with some dry matter materials such as grass on top and bottom. Some holes of considerable sizes are also made at the bottom of this top bucket to allow vermicompost and vermiliquid pass through to the second bucket.

“Rabbit manure is preferable to any type of manure because it speeds up the worms’ reproduction leading to faster decomposition of the wastes for more compost manure and vermiculture liquid,” said Muturi.

The middle or second bucket is where the vermicompost is collected depending on the activity of the worms on the organic wastes and the manure. The bucket too has some smaller holes than the upper one allows vermiliquid from the worms in the top bucket to pass through to the lats or bottom bucket.

The last bucket which is raised some few inches from the ground using some bricks, stones or wood has a tap at the bottom through which vermiliquid is tapped.

Vermicompost accumulated in the second bucket is used as manure for crops while vermiliquid collected in the bottom bucket acts as organic foliar and it is best for crops such as fruits and vegetables as started in the introduction.

Muturi installs the system for other farmers at Sh4,500 for the 20-litre buckets and Sh6,000 for the 50-litre bin.


Agripreneur Blog

How varsity undergraduate fighting ‘corona blues’ with rabbit farming

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In normal times, Emmanuel Eddionyi an undergraduate student from Kenyatta University could now be in school for his second last semester studies.

However, following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has led to the closure of all learning institutions in the country several months ago, the Bachelor of Education Special Education (Sp. ED) student, like the rest, has been forced to stay away from school.

“By now I could be ending my classwork then wait for teaching practice or practical lessons later in the year but due to the pandemic even our graduation, I guess, will have to wait as everything is now in limbo,” said Eddionyi.

For many students like him, this situation can be stressful and full of boredom feeling cut off from the campus life- with its vital resources and support networks which has now come to a halt something which can bring what many call ‘corona blues’.

In fact, latest studies have shown that rates of anxiety, depression, and stress in college students have risen significantly over the past months with many students reporting increased stress blamed on COVID-19.

For Eddionyi, his rabbit venture he started two years ago within his parents’ land in Stella, Migori County is relieving him the boredom brought about by the uncertainty of the current situation.

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“To me, just tending to these small animals offer me an aesthetic feeling and a reprieve other than the cash I am able to earn from selling them for white meat lovers and other farmers. After all, I no longer depend on my parents for upkeep,” he said. 

When he started this venture in 2018 after a thorough online research, his aim was to turn what used to be his childhood hobby into a lucrative venture and have at least an enterprise he could call his own.

His capital came from sales of scrap metals that he collected from old machine parts that belonged to his mother, of course on the mother’s permission. 

These gave him Sh12,000 which he used to buy some four breeds from an established farmer from Kasarani, Nairobi. He bought one which was already pregnant at Sh3,000 and the rest at Sh2,500 each.

The breeds included a New Zealand white, a Flemish giant, a Canadian giant and a California white. The rest of the money were spent on constructing a structure and buying some feeds.

“I buy a 50kg of rabbit pellets which the rabbits feed on for a duration of three weeks to one month. This is costly as I spend Sh2,500 on the bag forcing me to supplement with some potato vines I grow and other locally sourced feeds to help me manage production costs,” said Eddionyi.

He says the rabbits take 4-6 moths to mature. 

At this stage, one rabbit can weigh 1.5-2.5 kilos live weight and this he sells at Sh800-1,000 depending on the breed. 

He also sells six months old winners to other farmers for breeding purposes at Sh400-800, also depending on the breed.

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Eddionyi who also grows some cowpeas for vegetable which reach markets stage in few weeks and sell to traders from Awendo and Uriri Markets says his daily duties always begin early in the morning at around six and ends late in the evening by eight after ensuring that all his rabbits are fed and safe.

“It is very dangerous to idle this time because, as students, we do not have much school work to do at home and one can easily get depressed with the uncertainty of coronavirus crisis.”

To be able to manage his animals well, he says he controls their breeding rate especially every time he is about to go back to school so that they do not overwhelm his mother who helps him in looking after them as she also has other duties to take care of.

Currently he has over 70 rabbits a stock which has increased over the time given he has been crossbreeding the pure breeds with the local ones resulting to a more resilient and more productive breeds.

His vision in the near future when he finally finishes his studies is to transform the venture into a big farm of rabbits and in this, together with other farmers, they are coming up with an association of all rabbit farmers in Kenya through which they will be able to share information and sell their animals.