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How to grow and earn Sh1M net income from half an acre of turmeric in nine months

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Agriculture has been touted as the next frontier in Africa and choosing to grow a high value but the less cultivated crop in Kenya like turmeric makes it a very profitable venture for farmers.

Known as the golden spice of life, turmeric is slowly spreading its roots in East Africa, with Uganda taking the lead in cultivation.

According to Mr Oliver M. Ndegwa, the CEO of Madvisory Africa and lead Technical Engineer at Agrotunnel International, there has been little uptake of the crop by farmers due to an information gap.

“We import most of the turmeric consumed in the country because many farmers lack information and quality seeds, despite the huge local and international market,” said Ndegwa.

Due to its high economic value, Ndegwa has since founded Turmeric Kenya Ltd to mobilise farmers to grow the spice.

“We have started with the latest CIM PITAMBER turmeric variety from India which is at the multiplication stage,” said Ndegwa

The variety also has curcumin (the highly needed anti-inflammatory compound) of 12.5 per cent, the highest yield also of 2.5MT per half an acre, early maturity of 180-190 days and has wet to dry conversion rate of 22 per cent.

Other varieties include Swarna, Sudarshana, Suguna, BSR 1, Krishna, Rajendra Sonia, BSR 2, Allepy finger turmeric, Ranga and Waigaon among others.

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Growing turmeric 

For successful production and marketing, the following conditions and requirements should be met.

Climatic requirements

Generally, the crop requires a tropical climate with a heavy rain period, which is followed by a hot dry spell. It requires 1,000mm-2,000mm of rainfall annually and an altitude of 1,500m above sea level making it an ideal crop for many regions in Kenya and extensively, East Africa. 

It is a warm-season crop that thrives in humid climatic conditions and can be grown in a shade.   Ideal temperatures are between 20°C -35°C. It does well in organically rich, well-drained loamy soils with a pH of 4.5-7.5Farmers whose soils have a high pH can lower it by applying compost manure, while low PH can be increased be applying calcium carbonate. 

Selecting turmeric planting materials

This is a very critical part and a farmer can go wrong just by picking the wrong planting materials. 

“Farmers must avoid walking into the market to buy fresh turmeric rhizomes splits for direct planting as this can lead to a long wait before sprouting. This is because the dormancy period of the seed materials lasts for three months,” advises Ndegwa.

Instead, they should source clean planting materials from certified individual nurseries or government seed merchants like KALRO. 

The seed material from mother or finger rhizomes should be cut into pieces 4-5cm long with 1-2 buds. However, mother rhizomes are most preferred as they give over 50 per cent more yields compared to finger rhizomes.

Land preparation

Requires about 8 tonnes farmyard or compost manure per half an acre. The manure should be broadcasted and then dug into 35-40cm depth during ploughing. 

This is followed by harrowing and just before planting, beds of 1.0-1.5m wide, 15cm height should be made at a space of 50cm from each other in readiness for planting.

Planting

Just like ginger, turmeric is planted whole or split either as mother or finger rhizomes of 40-50g in weight. 

For a farmer who wants to use finger rhizomes, mature and healthy ones are preferred though according to experts, mother rhizomes are the best-placed planting materials for good production.

Before planting, make ridges and furrows of 45-50cm on the beds.

When planting, seed rate depends on a variety of factors such as soil type, planting system and weight of rhizomes and turmeric variety

It’s recommended to plant sets on ridges of 25-30cm apart, 15-30cm within rows and at a depth of 5-10 cm. With sufficient water, the shoot starts appearing after 10-15 days and will continue over a period of four to eight weeks.

About 1,000kg mother or finger rhizomes are required for planting an acre while a seed rate of 2,500kg and 2000kg of mother and finger rhizomes respectively are required to plant 1ha of land.

In case of intercropping which can be done with crops such as chilli, onions, French beans, coconut, eggplant and maize, 400-500kg of rhizomes are required.

Irrigation

the crop requires a litre of water per crop per week during dry season but this can be reduced by half if vertical farming is done.

Manure and fertiliser application

Apply 16 tonnes of well-decomposed farmyard manure during land preparation. For fertiliser, apply NPK at a ratio of 30:12:12 kilos per half an acre Top-dress a month later with UREA at 12.2kg per ½ acre. Weeding should be done when needed.  However, four to five weeding sessions are recommended.

Pests and diseases

Turmeric is affected by pests such as thrips, rhizome scales, nematode pests, and shoot. Borers and diseases such as leaf blotch, leaf spot, leaf blight, root not and rhizome rot. Root-knot nematodes can wipe out the entire crop population if not prevented or controlled in time,” reveals Ndegwa. Seek professional assistance on seeing any sign of disease or pests.

Harvest and post-harvest handling

Happens in seven to eight months for early maturing, and eight to nine months for medium maturing varieties. Harvest when leaves begin turning yellow and drying up. 

Cut leaves close to the ground and gather the rhizomes by hand or use a spade to carefully lift clumps to avoid damaging the rhizomes. Rhizomes are cured by leaving them for a day to wilt. 

Ensure this is done within two to three days of harvesting. Just before curing, separate the mother from the finger rhizomes and clean them up. Remember, you can realise an average yield of 10 to 15 tonnes per acre of green turmeric.

Post-harvest preservation

This involves boiling in a covered pot filled with three-quarters of water for 45 to 60 minutes, drying, and then polishing of the rhizomes by manual or mechanical rubbing to make them smooth and appealing. Remember to leave your boiled rhizomes indoors for about a day before sun drying for 10 to 15 days. You can preserve some rhizomes for seeds for at least 15 days by storing them in pits and covering them with sawdust or sand.

 

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After polishing, your turmeric is ready for the market. A finger of a rhizome of about 11cm retails at Ksh20 in Nairobi and the price is higher in the international markets.

Investment and production

Though the costs of raising half an acre can be regarded as quite high at between Sh175,000 to Sh200,000 for seeds, water, manure, and labour the returns are sweet

Currently, a kilo fetches Sh200 to Sh400, depending on variety and demand.

A half an acre can yield up to 7,5000 kilos of wet turmeric rhizomes, 5,000 kilos when dry and going with Sh250 average price per kilo, this will translate to Sh1,875,000 sold dry or Sh1,250,000 when wet.


Agripreneur Blog business

Covid19-created businesses that promise lifeline for jobless Kenyans

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Covid-19 effects have been felt everywhere and by every person something that has led to the loss of many livelihoods by many Kenyans as a result of job and salary cuts.

To note is the disrupted supply chain of goods due to measures that were put in place by the government to curb the spread of the disease.

These measures have seen markets lack various essential products due to lack of production by local manufacturers who, however, have started increasing manufacturing of the goods whose supply were greatly affected as they depend on international trade.

Some of these vital products include personal protective equipment (PPEs), face masks and sanitisers which are still in high demand and which the country usually imports but are now produced locally.

This move which is the potential Kenya and Africa has, presents various opportunities that many supply businesses can develop.

One such business is wholesale buying and supplying of face masks to shop and individuals who sell them at markets, bus stages and busy pathways.   

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At the moment, according to the Ministry of Industrialisation, Trade and Enterprise Development, as of 29th June 2020, there are about 113 registered companies that are involved in the manufacturing of different face masks in the country.

This has resulted in the availability of a wide range of masks at competitive prices. However, one of the most common brands is a 3ply disposable face mask that goes at as low as Sh220 per box of 50 pieces by most online shops. 

If sourced directly from manufacturers by bulk buyers, the box can cost much less. 

Going with Sh220 a box, you can buy about 20 such boxes at Sh4,400 and sell at Sh250 a box getting Sh30 per box translating to Sh600 profit a day just for a start. With time as the business picks and as you acquire loyal customers, you can trade in other brands like KN95 masks, premium branded masks for kids and adults.

This is much more than a casual labourer at industrial areas or construction sites who, in the majority, earn between Sh300-500 a day.

Some Kenyans have also found business opportunities in homemade sanitisers which are then hawked at events, in matatus and other crowded places like markets.

Currently, these products are still central in the fight against Covid-19 disease as they are used when people cannot hand wash hence making it a moving commodity.

Glycerol is the main raw product used in making these types of sanitisers. A 100-ml bottle of homemade sanitiser go for 50 shillings and one can make as many as they can provide the raw material is available and then the products are supplied to hotels, matatus, churches and shops.

Alternatively, one can source the products from the many companies in the country that are now making them and supply them to the same places.

These are some of the businesses that one can never go wrong by investing in as they deal in products of the moment.


Agripreneur Blog

Dorper sheep breeding, highly profitable venture worth investment

Many farmers in Kenya are increasingly considering rearing the Dorper sheep breed over the indigenous breeds like the Red Maasai sheep due to the breed’s superior characteristics such as adaptability to various harsh environmental conditions and its resistance to diseases.

While most farmers rear the breed commercially for its highly sought-after meat, many have ignored the breeding aspect that is even highly profitable given the rash by farmers to keep the breed.

In fact, according to Animal Genetic Training Resource (AGTR), the breed makes a huge contribution to mutton production worldwide hence the need for more breeding services to satisfy the growing demand from farmers and consumers.

Despite Dorper sheep’s long breeding season which is not seasonally limited and that lambs can be dropped at any time of the year, there are few breeders in Kenya making the venture of good returns.

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According to Jeremiah Sein, Dorper Sheep Breeders Society of Kenya treasurer there are only a handful of breeders in the Rift Valley region who are registered and licensed by the society.

“The importance of registering and licensing our members is to help in data keeping which further helps us in avoiding inbreeding of the animals,” said Sein.

Most breeders prefer producing and raising rams which they sell out to farmers for breeding instead of letting ewes from other farmers into their farms. This is to avoid the spread of diseases.

A fully grown pure Dorper ram ready to serve, costs Sh45,000 higher than that of a fully grown ewe which is Sh25,000 while a cross with indigenous breed sell at Sh15,000-20,000 for a ram and Sh10,000 for a ewe.

Now, given the lambing interval is about eight months, on average a Dorper ewe can produce over two lambs on an annual basis.

This means that a farm with about 50 Dorper sheep; 30 ewes and 20 rams (a good ratio for breeding purposes) will have approximately 110 sheep at the end of the year.

Dorper lamb can reach a live weight of about 36 kg at the age of 3-4 months. At this stage, a ram goes for not less than Sh10,000.

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For Hezron Kiprono, a Dorper sheep farmer from Mogotio in Baringo County, he can sell up to 20 fully grown rams for breeding in a year earning him about Sh400,000 on an upper estimate.

Currently, the farmer who started with 10 ewes now has over 60 sheep. He spends Sh2,000 every three months on deworming, Sh250 per week to buy acaricides and veterinary consultations costs him Sh1,000.

He has also teamed up with other two Dorper sheep farmers in the area and formed the Kisanana Dorper Breeders Society, a platform they use to exchange rams for breeding purposes and also sell their sheep to other farmers.

He says, selling a ram for breeding is much profitable than selling it for meat since he sells a fully grown ram ready to serve at Sh20,000.

The same ram when estimated in terms of meat yield will sell at Sh14,000 given such a ram can produce about 40 kilos of meat in six months which goes ta Sh350 per kilo.

Fortunately for Kenyan breeders and farmers is that Dorper ewes register a 10% twining rate, 78% lambing (fertility) rate, average birth weight of 3.6kg, pre-weaning lamb growth and mortality rates of 178g/day and 14%, respectively.


Agripreneur Blog

Tharaka Nithi farmer bets on relay planting for steady income

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Climate change and unpredictable weather patterns are slowly causing poor productivity or sometimes loss of entire crop hence the need for substantial changes in farming practices.

Gone are the days when farmers use to do excessive tillage that has been associated with continued land degradation resulting in productivity problems.

In addition, farmers especially those growing horticulture crops no longer wait to fully harvest their first crops as they can intercrop the second crop after the first one has completed its development in what is called relay cropping.

It is this farming practice that Paul Mpanda Mboiro, a horticulture farmer from Igamba Ng’ombe, Tharaka Nithi County has been involved in since 2018 September when he started commercial production of tomatoes, watermelons, kales and sweet potatoes within his five acres piece of land.

Tomato being his key crop, he ensures that he divides his farms well in that while one portion is being harvested, the other has plants at the flowering stage and while there are some seedlings in the nursery, others are just transplanted to the seedbed.

“This way,” says Mpanda, “I am always harvesting and selling the produce all year round making a steady income just like those in formal employment.”

 

He learned this style of farming way back in 2015 when he was a trader of fresh produce at Kongowea Market in Mombasa County where he used to source tomatoes among other crops directly from farmers and take them to the market.

“During the time, I noticed that there were som90e farmers who always had tomatoes from their own farms to sell and when I required, they were free to share their double-cropping technique,” said Mpanda.

So, he decided to try distance farming which could not work because those whom he put in charge became insincere prompting him to retire home in Makanyanga village, Tharaka Nithi County in 2018 August to focus on crop production.

His first tomatoes which he planted on half an acre in September that year was his source of motivation.

He could harvest 2-3 tonnes per week selling at Sh200-300 a kilo. At the end of the season he had over Sh0.5m gross income hence he became determined to increase his production.

 

To avoid repeating the same crop on the same piece of land, he increased the acreage to two, to three then to five overtime. this has since enabled him to practice crop rotation by growing watermelons, sweet potatoes, kales and sometimes maize to discourage the build-up of certain pests and diseases.89

“Maize does not do well here but I just decided to be introducing it into a tomato farm at the time tomatoes which take a short time to mature are getting exhausted, there is something to occupy the space to even reduce the growth of weeds,” said Mpanda.

He also does fish farming having build two large ponds measuring 25×20 feet and 45×40 feet. The ponds have tilapia, mudfish and catfish.

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He harvests the mature ones which he sells at Chuka Fisheries at Sh100-200 a piece or Sh350 a kilo.

Coming as a reprieve for him and other farmers in the area is Makanganga Irrigation Scheme which he says was completed two months ago and farmers have already started benefiting from the free water by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Confident that the scheme will see them through the dry season, Mpanada is currently selling his last tomato harvests from half an acre while there are others already flowering and will soon be ready for market.

“I am sure that by May I will be planting others so that I do not run out of the produce at any point in time,” he said.


Agripreneur Blog business Entrepreneurial Stories

Birds sanctuary increasingly becoming an economic target for most entrepreneurs

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In the recent past, Kenya has been one of the leading countries in Africa for tourism destinations given its wildlife and natural attraction sites.

Indeed, Kenya is the third-largest tourism economy in Sub-Saharan Africa after South Africa and Nigeria and that the sector contributes Sh790 billion and 1.1 million jobs to the country’s economy, according to the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife.

Entrepreneurs are now taking advantage of this to invest in birdlife in a bid to attract tourists for cash besides protecting the sheer abundance and variety of beautiful birds.

One such entrepreneur is Geoffrey Maranga, currently the manager of Stedmak Gardens, a recreational centre that hosts a birds’ sanctuary with over 30 different species of beautiful birds.

According to Maranga, other than using the birds to attract tourists, they also preserve them for breeding purposes and the two purposes have seen the centre earn about Sh1m annually.

“We started in 2013 when we used to keep these birds just to multiply them, but of late it is one of our major business projects here,” he said.

The centre which is located along Mokoyeti Road East 500 metres off Langata Road is currently home to over 500 birds that attract nature lovers.

For domestic tourists, they charge Sh300 for adults and Sh200 for children while international adult tourists pay Sh1000 and Sh500 for children.

“We receive between 250 and 350 visitors a day and the number most of the time go up during weekends. We also experience up to 1000 visitors per day in festive seasons,” said Maranga. 

According to Rongers Ong’ondo, assistant birds park manager, some of the birds within the centre include French Mondain, Greylag goose, Strasser Pigeon, Indian Fantail Pigeon, Budgerigar,  Saddle Fantail Pigeon, Saxon Shield Owl Pigeon, Ugandan Cranes, Reverse Wings Pouter, Pekin bantam, Jersey Giant, Jacob Lion Head Pigeon, Leghorn, and guinea fowls among others.

“We sell a pair of African grey parrots at Sh70,000 while a single such parrot fetches Sh40,000, a pair of Australian cocktail is Sh30,000 while a single cocktail is bought at Sh20,000 just to sample a few,” said Ongóndo.

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He says, Australian cocktails if managed well can live for over 25 years while African grey parrots can go up to 40-50 years.

For Jagi Gakunju, an avid naturalist from Nyeri County in central Kenya, he had to clear a coffee plantation in 1986 to build a birds’ sanctuary after inheriting the 20 acres of land from his father.

After clearing the coffee plants, indigenous trees started growing and today, there is a massive fig tree and the area is surrounded by lush vegetation, a home for various birds’ species which have become an attractive destination for people who visit the region.

He has since named it Wajee Park, currently recognized by Birdlife International 

as an Important Bird Area, a collective of global conservation groups.

“Currently, we have over 120 birds species such as African green pigeons, montane white-eyes, the green-backed honeyguide and African wood owls and more,” said Gakunju.

The park also attracts migrant African birds such as the black cuckoo shrike and the African pygmy kingfisher, and species from Europe like the Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Eurasian Bee-eater.

They are a good display especially in the morning for most visitors who frequent the area and it has become a big economic venture that Gakunju says he never thought about at the beginning.

“When I started growing trees in this area no one including myself knew it would have turned out to be one of the nicest places frequented by both local and foreign visitors,” he said.

Indeed, this is a venture that anyone can easily start just like with poultry. All you need is a natural set-up where the bids will find their home. 

 


Agripreneur Blog

Information sharing Scaling up Meru Agro- entrepreneur’s Production and Income

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Before 2019, Lucy Kaari, an agro-entrepreneur from Tigania West in Meru County was just a voluntary worker at Makandi Community Based Organisation (CBO) earning Sh5,000 a month from sales of farm produce.

However, her life would soon change thanks to FarmtoMarket Alliance (9FtMA) program by Kuza Biashara in collaboration with the Cereal Growers Association (CGA) which seeks to help farmers from production to marketing of their farm produce.

The program has turned her into an Agribusiness Advisor (AA) since early last year when she attended FtMA training workshop in Meru Town where she was trained on how to start an agribusiness, market knowledge, farm budget development, record keeping, accessing financial help, managing cash flow and credit and savings through SACCOs among others.

“After training I went back to the CBO where I had some leadership role and I showed the members new skills of doing farming I learnt. In the next season, I was pleased to witness all of my members in especially women becoming my farmers,’’ said Kaari.

She says she started with just 150 farmers from the CBO but in a record of one-year period, the mother of four has already increased the number to 500 owing to her freewill to share the knowledge she has with the members.

Other than lacking business skills, Kaari also faced a lack of enough capital venture into agribusiness at the beginning.

 Nevertheless, her first sorghum production last year around July where she realised 10 bags of 100 kilos each which she sold at Sh32 a kilo gave her a good starting point in the business.

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‘’I am very grateful because FarmtoMarket Alliance program has been able to like me and other farmers with financiers and seed companies among other partners who help us from farm to the market,’’ she said.

Today, Kaari who owns 2.5 acres of land in Mbeu Ward, Meru County is growing maize and sorghum on a rotational basis.

In a season, she is able to harvest 15 90kg bags of maize which she sells at Sh3,000 per bag and 10 100kg bags of sorghum which goes at Sh32 per kilo.

In this, she makes about Sh77,000 per season out of the two crops. She also owns an agro vet where she is able to reach out to farmers with subsidised farm inputs and training.

‘’When I am not in the field visiting or working on my own farm, I always run the agrovet which I can say has broken the long-chain the inputs had to follow to reach the farmers hiking the prices,’’ said Kaari.

She says the agrovet rakes her about Sh20,000 a month. 

In addition to the agrovet which FtMA program has enabled her run effectively, she is also a sorghum aggregator working with Safaricom’s DigiFarm to collect all the produce from her farmers and collect them at one place where they are then bought.

To her, success is when she will have her own logistics system in place to ease her transport of farm produce, have her own store built on a piece of land she has already bout to cut on her rental costs and bring together more farmers and be able to help them transform their lives.

‘’Since the time I was a volunteer, I have never wanted to see my fellow farmers suffer for lack of knowledge. I would like to see their lives transform just like mine.’’

The registered CGA farmer says that the door is still open to all who would like to join or help them in whatever way possible to grow even stronger.


Agripreneur Blog

How delaying small farmers’ payments led youth into starting own fresh export company

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Delaying small farmers payments by companies dealing mostly in fresh produce for more than a month leading to the farmers’ worries has been a problem by most growers in the country.

This is the gap in the market that led Eunice Mutua, 35, into starting her own company, Select Fresh Produce Kenya Limited, a company that deals in the export of fresh produce such as pineapples, chickpeas, green grams, groundnuts, and sesame (simsim) among others.  

According to the 2015 GlobalFood report on the Transformation of Global Agri-Food Systems, linking small farmers to global markets through contract farming and other means has become an important policy recommendation aiming to increase farmers’ income and foster rural development.

However, the report further indicates that some of the arrangements involving the small farmers have been reported to lose participants or collapse over time due to a lack of trust in payments among other reasons.

This is one of the main reasons behind Eunice’s decision to finally start her own company in 2014 after working for different companies which gave her the opportunity to interact with farmers of all levels and agro-dealers.

“I had a chance to study what works and what doesn’t when dealing with clients besides knowing how various agro-companies were dealing with farmers. Most of such companies could pay farmers their dues very late, at least a month after produce delivery something which was laming farmers’ production and this was a gap that needed to be filled,” said Eunice.

Nevertheless, her journey was not that easy. Two years after graduating from Banking from Kampala International University in 2004 with a degree in Bachelor of Science, Finance and Banking, she secured her first job with Wells Fargo Limited at Cashing Transit Department between 2006 and 2008.

She then joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Kenya as a Strategic Manager in 2009 where she was exposed and discovered most of her business ideas, thanks to the team she worked with and her immediate boss then.

“Other than exposure, I got the chance to interact with many people and made business connections. I learnt some international market regulations and how to source for clients by positioning myself in a way that makes it easy for prospective international traders can spot me,” said Eunice.

After around two years at PwC, she resigned and while she was thinking about the next move she teamed with her sister, Caroline Mutua to start trading in secondhand clothes (mitumba) in Kileleshwa.

 

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“We decided to visit Gikomba Market in Nairobi with Sh2,000 which we used to buy some clothes and took to Kileleshwa estate to sell. That one day we made a gross income of Sh8,000 and we got encouraged to continue in the business saving along,” said Eunice.

After six months, Eunice who is also an MBA Strategic Management graduate from Daystar University joined her father, Mr. Boniface Mutua Musyoki who is an agropreneur and runs a twelve-acre mango farm at Syokimau in Machakos County where they began My choice Company which used to export mangoes.

“I persuaded my father and we started a company to capitalise on the huge and far profiting export market as compared to local markets. We started exporting mangoes to Dubai and we could trade in over 27 tonnes of mangoes a month,” said Eunice.

Exporting mangoes was not that easy as she recalls a case where their partner in the business got away with of money that a client paid upon delivery of the goods only for the partner to claim there was no such payments.

“Sometimes I wonder why some people can be so selfish even on matters like fresh produce export market which is so big that no single person can ever exhaust. However, I have since learnt to help others who want to venture into the business on exports requirements besides connecting them to such 

After one and a half years, Eunice left My Choice Company for her father and brother who changed the name of the company to My Choice Flower Limited majoring in the export of summer flowers, single head roses and spray roses flowers.

She moved on to start Select Fresh Produce of which she is the CEO. The company is currently exporting cereals and fresh produce sourced from different parts of the country especially Machakos , Uganda and Ethiopia.

This has also given her a lot more exposure. In 2016 she got a chance to be part of a Kenyan delegation that went to Ireland for a benchmarking on matters agribusiness and agriculture production in general.

“I was overwhelmingly impressed to be part of the government sponsored team to Ireland. I discovered the country (Ireland) has a lot we can borrow beginning from their agriculture vision to the strategic plan, Foodwise 2020, which we found to be so simple that every citizen in that country including the small-scale farmers can easily master making it easy for implementation.”

Select Fresh Produce Kenya Limited is now exporting its fresh produce to Europe, Netherlands, Ireland, and Middle East countries. The company is also currently looking for avocado farmers to grow the crop on a contract basis as it aims to expand its export reach.

The company invests in training the farmers on how to grow crops to meet international standards and they have trained many farmers who supply then every season.

“Other than the over 8,000 farmers whom I have trained on how to grow the crops for export, I also have connections in Uganda and Ethiopia where I get the produce collected then I export from there. This cuts my transport costs as I do not have to import the goods to Kenya then export again.”

Eunice has so far employed five employees on permanent basis and the other five casually in her company. She also trains on export global gap certification, branding and finding clients.

“I love sharing my experience, market reach and knowledge among other things with people as I believe that by so doing I grow, others grow too and we build a strong economy for our country together,” said Eunice.

 


Agripreneur Blog

Community Based Agribusiness Advisors Turning Meru Peasants into Commercial Farm Producers

Certified potato seeds uplifting Molo farmers to agribusiness stardom

When Kibet Rotich started farming potatoes within a quarter-acre piece of land in Molo, Nakuru County in 2009, the former carpenter had no knowledge about the potential certified seeds in boosting yields.

For one year Rotich, 36, and other 18 youths in the area who had just started trying their luck in potato farming relied on recycled seeds that had no quality output.

In fact, according to the National Potato Council of Kenya (NPCK), despite the various potato seed varieties in the market production of the crop is still low in the country at only seven tonnes per hectare against a potential of 40 tonnes on the same measure of land.

This has been blamed on the shortage of certified potato seedlings and the lack of knowledge about the varieties available and where to source them.

To change this narrative among Rotich’s group members and other growers in the region who were recycling what they have been using, the Ministry of Agriculture in 2010 conducted training for the farmers and since then things have improved.

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“After the training, I decided to source six bags of 50kg potato certified seeds of Shangi variety from Molo’s Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) at Sh1250 and made sure I planted according to the specifications given,” said Rotich.

He planted these within his quarter piece of plot and after about three months he would start harvesting.

To his surprise, he realised seven big bags of potato which he sold at Sh1,800 each to get Sh12,600 which was double what other farmers who were still stuck with the uncertified seeds got that season.

His good harvest and earnings attracted the attention of the other farmers who started asking him for seeds. This was an opportunity for Rotich to invest in seed multiplication and make more money.

“I started sourcing more certified seeds from Molo to grow and sell other farmers. A kilo of the seeds sells at a constant price of Sh55 -60 in contrast to a kilogram of ware potatoes, which can fetch as low as Sh10,” said Rotich.

In 2011, his network of farmers grew to 25 and another business opportunity came by sourcing potatoes from the growers and transporting to the local markets using a bicycle.

In the following year, following his wide network of farmers, he was picked by the Ministry of Agriculture and German federally-owned international cooperation enterprise, GTZ for more training on ware potato production so that he could in turn teach other farmers.

The training was so beneficial that in 2013, many farmers in the region started increasing the acreage under the crop to between 2-5 acres.

In 2017, because of the increase of members, they decided to form and register Yator community-based organisation with 234 members drawn from several smaller farmer groups in the area.

Other farm input companies such as Syngenta and Yara Kenya started developing interest in the CBO by coming into partnership with the growers. Since then the companies have been providing free training to the farmers and selling to them farm inputs at affordable prices.

 

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“Today, we are able to order farm inputs directly from the manufacturing companies and because they offer free transport for our bulk buying, it has really reduced our production costs,” said Rotich.

As if that is not enough, towards the end of Cereal Growers Association (CGA) trained the farmers in best agronomical practices introducing them in grains production.

In the subsequent year, they diversified into maize production with Rotich as their Agribusiness Advisor (AA) having been registered by CGA as an AA.

The CBO has really advanced since its establishment. Last year, the members bought a half an acre piece of land at Sh150,000 and they have since erected an Sh600,000 well-furnished aggregation centre with officers, stores and washrooms.

Here, the farmers will be collecting their ware potatoes and cereals for the market as well as receiving their farm inputs.

“If it were not for this coronavirus pandemic, we could have already launched it for official use by farmers,” said Rotich.

He is now looking forward to having an improved marketing system where member farmers will be benefiting full profit of their labour.


Agripreneur Blog

Youth championing climate smart farming in West Pokot and Turkana counties

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West Pokot and Turkan counties are among the counties in Kenya which experience extreme weather conditions with sweeping floods during the rainy season and ravaging drought in the dry season.

This has been causing dire food shortages among the communities living in the areas that have been classified as arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL).

It is for this reason that there is a need for interventions with the climate-smart approach in food production to cushion the residents from hunger.

Shirley Kigotho, 29, is one such agro-entrepreneur who has been championing resilient farming methods such as aquaponics and hydroponic among youth and women groups in the areas for food security.

She says she first got the concept of the alternative methods of farming back in 2015 while she was working for the Turkana county government as a financial analyst. 

She then embarked on online research on how developed countries are able to grow crops in arid and semi-arid areas using the aquaponics method which entails growing crops in a moist area by spraying plant roots with plant food nutrients and hydroponics where one uses liquid, sand, gravel, and other materials to grow plants instead of sowing crops in soil.

“After getting better information on the two methods of farming, I needed now to go practical to perfect the techniques,” said Shirley.

Luckily the parents offered her a piece of family land in Trans Nzoia to practice the two concepts. 

 

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“In addition, they gave me a loan of Sh200,000 and added Sh130,000 part of my savings to enable me to set up my prototype farm in Trans Nzoia,” she said.

Since then she has been using the two methods to grow tomatoes within a greenhouse. She also grows capsicum, kales, cabbages, cucumber and coriander among other vegetables outside in the open field. 

She now works with two groups of over 320 youth and women drawn from Trans Nzoia where she was born, West Pokot and Turkana counties training them on how to use the two methods of farming to produce their own food and some for the market.

In this, she installs greenhouses and set up hydroponic systems for people in the areas. 

For instance, together with the youth, they install greenhouses at Sh97,000, hydroponic systems at Sh23,000.

Meaning if one would want to have both the greenhouse and the hydroponic system it would cost them Sh120,000, money that goes directly to the group account.

On her personal account, she has been riding on aquaponics and hydroponic to grow and earn from different crops.

She gets 10 crates of tomatoes which she sells at Sh5,500 per crate.  She is also able to harvest two sacks of 126kgs of cabbages which she sells at Sh3,000 and three 90kgs bags of kales which she sells at Sh3,000 at the local markets.  

To facilitate her agenda of bringing the youth and women together in resilient farming methods, Shirley has started her own company, Jangwani Farms Limited that focuses on growing alternatives in arid and semiarid areas and got incorporated in June 2018.

Currently, her firm has employed three staff members, a farmhand, an agronomist and a technician.

She is also looking for investors to help her expand Jangwani Farms and reach the uncovered areas of the vast West Pokot and Turkana counties to help residents combat the challenge of food insecurity. 

As a boost to her quest, last year Jangwani Farms won the Most Sustainable Business award by Blaze Safaricom encouraging her to start thinking of producing high-value crops for international markets. 

 


Agripreneur Blog

Former watchman and college dropout youth finds soft landing in watermelon farming

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Raised by a single parent, Zachariah Onchuri is one of those few youths who have gone through various challenges in their hustles through the persistence for success has borne them fruits. Zack, as famously known by his friends, was forced out of college in 2009 when he could not pay his school fees given his mother who is his only parent, he could depend on was unable to pay his fees.

His hustle as a ‘mutura’ seller in Eldoret Town near Elgon View College where he was taking his journalism course could also not continue as the town ‘askaris’ were always on his case due to lack of business permit. When it became unbearable, he dropped out of college, left his home in Sotik, Bomet County for Kilifi Town after a friend of his called him over to join him in a security job.

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“I had no choice, I found myself being a night watchman in the coastal town, a job which could earn me Sh3,500 a month,” said Zack.

During the day, he could also get involved in hawking fruits such as watermelon, oranges and pineapples at least to increase his earning, foot his bills and support his mother back at home. Fortunately for him, the fruit hawking business picked and he saw no need of continuing as a night security guard. So, he left the watchman job in May 2009 to focus on his new business. “I used to make Sh500 a day from watermelon sales alone as it was loved by most consumers and it would always run out of stock leaving me with nothing to sell even when the demand was still high,” said Zack.

Soon an idea would strike his mind-farming watermelon. However, his first challenge was the lack of a farm though he could afford farm inputs from his little savings. Luckily, a young man from the Chakama location in Kilifi County whom they had become friends offered him a quarter piece of land to grow watermelon. Without any skills in commercial farming and had not thought of consulting, Zack would later in September 2010 leave his business in town to invest about Sh11,000 in watermelon farming.

Unfortunately, he lost almost the entire crop to Bacterial Fruit Blotch and Powdery Mildew, very common watermelon diseases. “At a time I was expecting my first fruits in December that year, I realized the products were still very small and unhealthy while others were withering away. There was no hope on them so I destroyed everything,” he said. Not losing hope, he hustled for a loan of Sh50,000 to begin afresh since his Chakama friend had accepted to let him another half an acre piece of the plot.

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Before starting his round two of watermelon farming, he had to consult the county agriculture extension officer and some experienced farmers in the area. In mid-January, he planted the fruits again using the friend’s generator water pump to draw water from Athi River which the farm was closer to water his tender crops through the dry season.

By mid-March 2011, he harvested about six tonnes of watermelon which he would take to markets in Malindi and Kilifi to sell by himself at Sh40 per kilo without passing through middlemen hence making full profit. “At the end of that season I made Sh200,000 gross income remaining with Sh140,000 after expenses and this has since motivated me,” said Zack.

Today the young farmer has over 47 acres of land (his own and others leased) under rotation watermelon farming at Chakama and Garsen in Malindi. He produces 10-17 tonnes of the crop per acre selling on order to wholesalers from Mombasa, Malindi Kilifi and Nairobi at Sh60 per kilo. This earns him between Sh900,000 and Sh1.2m clean net income after farm expenses. He uses this money to settle siblings school fees, some on his mother’s needs while saving the rest.

He has since become a watermelon farming consultant offering the service for free to farmers in various parts of the country and in neighbouring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda. “I believe that sharing information among farmers can not only help in increasing yields and income but also enable starters to choose the right agribusiness to venture in for better returns. This is why I do it for free,” said Zack. He has also ventured into other vegetables such as okra, cabbages, capsicum, and zucchini which helps him in rotation farming he has adopted to keep diseases away and improve the structure of his farms’ soils.


Agripreneur Blog

Beekeeping simplified for women groups

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The average cost for starting a beekeeping venture is roughly Sh50,000 that caters for the cost of equipment such as some three modern beehives, a smoking gun, a suit, a honey siever, and a bee brush among others not to talk of the cost of training for basic skills.

These costs can be extremely high for smallholder farmers who may be interested to start the sweet venture despite the fact that 80 per cent of the Kenyan land is arid and semi-arid making it suitable for honey production given the abundance of bees flora in the areas.

However, Nyuki Hubs Kenya Limited, a social enterprise based in Nairobi is now making it simpler for small-scale farmers, more so women groups, in these areas to own their own equipment, get starter bees on loan which is then slowly deducted from the proceeds.

According to Erastus Munywoki, an officer in charge of the company’s Tharaka Nithi Office, farmers willing to work with them are supposed to organise themselves in groups of at least ten before contacting the firm.

“We are currently looking for willing groups of farmers especially women groups that we can help in the production of honey and other bee products to meet our market demand,” said Erastus.

The latest groups of women to benefit from the initiative are some women from Narok and Nyeri counties with others from Tharaka Nithi, Taita Taveta and Makueni counties.

Erastus says the farmers must first ensure a conducive environment for the beneficial insects by planting flowering plants and limiting the use of harmful insecticides that can repulse bees or even kill them.

After contacting the company, they are then visited by a team of technicians who evaluates the viability of the venture in the area and the potential of every farmer.

If all is well, the farmers are offered the equipment in addition to free transport, training and installation services before being left to manage the production.

“Even though the entire management is done by the farmers, we always ensure that we are in close contact with them to offer help in case of any challenges,” said Erastus who is also part of the technical team.

 

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He says, if the farmers were to buy the equipment themselves, they would, for instance, buy a beehive at Sh7,000, suit at Sh4,900, smoking gun at Sh4,000, and bee colonies at Sh3,000 per colony among others, which can be very expensive for them.

Now, bees are easy to rear, 50 colonies require a quarter of an acre and every colony will need its own hive translating to 50 hives within the small piece of land.

Typically, some amount of honey is ready to be harvested from a new hive within four to six months from when the colony of bees was introduced to the hive.

However, it is recommended to wait for one season before you start harvesting that delicious honey to help the bees establish a strong colony which they need the first honey for energy to do that.

This means therefore that Nyuki Hubs farmers, will start selling to the company after a period of one year.

Erastus says that the company buys entire honeycombs from farmers at Sh300 per kilo and offer free transport.

Depending on the size, a beehive can hold 8-10 honeycombs and a honeycomb can hold up to a kilo of honey.

It means that just from one beehive, a farmer can realize over Sh3,000 and if they are 50 hives, the value rise to Sh150,000 per season.

From this amount and depending on the farmers’ agreement with the company, a portion will go directly to the company to service for the equipment loan while the remaining amount to the farmer.

“We do not deduct this amount forever. Once the farmer is through with the loan, he or she will be free to enjoy the whole procedure and at liberty to sell to whatever market they wish,” said Erastus.

According to the National Farmers Information Service (NAFIS), only 20% of the country’s honey production potential (estimated at 100,000 metric tonnes) has been tapped but the consumption keeps growing at a rate of 15 percent annually.


Agripreneur Blog Entrepreneurial Stories

Villagers turns abandoned land into a money minting beekeeping and hay production enterprise

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In most places in Kenya, due to rural-urban migration, there are some places where arable lands are just left untilled as owners are lost in cities and towns looking for formal jobs.

With time these lands become very fertile due to lack of any activity in them and as a result, they become one of the best and attractive sites for agricultural productions.

This was the situation almost a decade ago with a 32-acre piece of land in Uasin Ngishu County along Eldoret-Kitale highway which the owner has used it to grow wheat and maize left it in 2006 for Mombasa City to look for other forms of income.

About four years later villagers started salivating for the land wanting to make it productive for the benefit of the youth in the area and they approached the owner through the Economic Projects Transformational Facility (EPTF).

EPTF which is a non-governmental organization that aims to spur enterprise development among the youth and eradicate poverty in society first had a beekeeping project for the community living in the area but there was no space for the project.

In 2010, the organization, therefore, approached the owner who, after 2-3 years of talks, agreed that his land be used for such a ‘sweet’ venture which to him was more environmentally friendly and the land wasn’t going to be exhausted.

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After the deal, the villagers with support from EPTF set 15 beehives in 2015. These would soon start producing 75 kilograms of raw honey harvested per season and sold directly to consumers at Sh100 per kilo something that proved the viability of the project in the area.

In 2016 30 more beehives were added and a centrifugal honey extractor machine to improve honey quality and quantity was also purchased.

“In 2018 we had 60 hives and now we have about 100 hives fully occupied with bees from which we harvest over 1,000Kg of refined honey a season. This earns us over Sh100,000,” said Geoffrey Ng’etich, the project manager.

The packed beehives has been made possible by planting flowering plants such as sunflower, acacia, avocadoes and orange fruit trees among other trees that attract bees and provide nectar for honey production.

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So far, the project has yielded much fruit for the residents. From the proceeds of the honey venture, the beneficiaries have purchased another six acres of land which has been put under Boma Rhodes hay fodder production.

From the six acres, they produce 845-1,200 bales which they sell at between Sh250 and Sh150 depending on the distance to market and market demand at a given time.

“We do not harvest our grass before receiving market or sales orders as we prefer selling them when still fresh to enable us to decongest our small store which is one of the major challenges we are facing with hay farming at the moment,” said Ng’etich.

However, despite the challenges, the residents have established themselves. Within a portion of the six-acre piece of land, they have built their operation base which is called Nyaru Farm under which all their products and services are offered.

Today the farm nicely package and brand their honey products using the farm name something which has enabled them to attract more sales by breaking even into the formal markets.

“We buy our packaging bottles from Eldoret Town and Nairobi where a bottle costs Sh20. The bottles are then labelled ‘Nyaru Honey’ as the brand identification,” said Ng’etich.

Now with approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), they sell a 500g bottle of honey at Sh400 while that of 250g fetches Sh200 per bottle.

In order to be able to help even the young graduates, the farm operates under Graduate Internship Programme (GRIP) which gives the youth and women the opportunity and support to venture in various businesses to earn a living.

In this, the farm acts as a training ground for university students who are interested in agribusiness, especially during their long vacation and internship programmes.

“We receive students each season who come as farm helps to practically learn on-farm management,” said Ng’etich. 

According to him, this keeps alternating depending on the students’ holidays and industrial attachment periods.

Because most of the students and the youth benefiting from the farm are from the surrounding, there are plans to turn it into an institute that will absorb post-secondary school leavers who do not make it to the university.