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Plucking riches: the success story of a Limuru start-up farmer

Christabel Telewa @PeopleDailyKe

Most places in Nairobi city tend to be bustling, warm and dusty at this time of the year. But 55km away, Ken Chege’s farm in Gatamaiyu, Lari district is a breath of fresh air in every sense: open fields of tea plantations and vegetable farms, with clouds drifting slowly above the fresh countryside air. This family farm where Chege was born and raised produces tea, cabbages, capsicum and tomatoes.

Seeing how smoothly the farm is running and how seriously Chege has taken on his role as a farmer, it is difficult to believe that the travel agent only started farming for money four years ago after he inherited the farm. “My wife and I wanted to run it as a business and not a hobby as my parents did,” Chege says.

So the couple used their tea bonus in subsequent years to improve farm operations. “In 2013, we bought a pickup; in 2014 we just paid off loans because the bonus wasn’t substantial; and in 2015, we invested it in an Amiran Farmer’s Kit,” he recalls.

Amiran Farmers Kit

Chege chose to purchase an Amiran Farmer’s Kit because he was looking for something tried and tested. “When we asked around, we only heard about Amiran. I also met people with different kinds of greenhouses that did not have a brand name and were not skillfully set up,” he says.

Designed by Amiran Kenya Ltd, the kit is tailor-made to meet the needs of a specific farmer or group of farmers by adapting the components of the kit to suit the climate, terrain, and their agricultural experience.

The AFK incorporates innovative agricultural technologies including the family drip system, an easy to use gravity-based drip irrigation system; a greenhouse and top quality agro-inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and agro-chemicals.

The package also includes installation, training and an agro-support package that allows Amiran to teach the “Amiran Farmer” how to grow and then stay with the farmer throughout the season to ensure best results. For the second season Amiran sells the seeds, pesticides and fertilisers at a reduced cost.

Purchasing this kit was the first step and Chege had to put in a lot of work to ensure a successful harvest. “Before using the soil in the greenhouse, we took it for testing at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute.

The experts said that it was good quality but advised that we could get healthier soil from a nearby forest,” he says. Since he wanted perfect soil, he opted to get it from the forest.

After getting the necessary permits and making payments, Chege and his workers collected four pickup loads from the forest daily, which they found too tiresome and hired a lorry. Unfortunately, heavy rains made the forest roads impassable. “Still, we were able to plant successfully and we have now had two successful harvests,” he says.

“In six months we will have recovered all the money that we used to purchase the greenhouse,” he says. Chege says he was able to produce a good quality crop as a first-time farmer because of the training, after- sales-support and an agro-support package that he got from Amiran.

“Some greenhouses out there are cheaper but I doubt if they produce as much or good quality as this one. As a farmer, it is better not to take short cuts.” The Amiran training focuses on record keeping, traceability, irrigation, crop husbandry, pest control, as well as health and safety.

Farmers are also trained on good agricultural practice and awarded a certificate upon successful completion. Under the agro support package, Amiran’s experts visits the farmer for a whole season and advice on consultancy and agricultural services as well as expose the farmers to new growing techniques and products.

“When we have concerns about the tomatoes, we take a photo and send it to Amiran sales team via WhatsApp. We get an immediate response addressing our problem after that,” explains Chege.

Farming for success

Although Chege is a successful farmer, he admits that such a venture asks a lot of a person. “I wake up at 7:30 am and go into my greenhouse to scout for developments.

Later, I inspect the tea as I chat with our puckers. It is a balancing act. This is where I grew up, so I have to take time to socialise with my neighbours,” he explains. I noticed that Chege knows and greets all his neighbours, workers and even animals by name. He was particularly concerned about one of his calves ‘Helen’ who was missing.

He usually ends his day by looking at the records, which include the feeding regime and fertilisers. “I spend two days a week at the farm but I have a farm manager to ensure that everything runs smoothly when I’m not here,” he says, adding that he might soon quit the travel agency business. Chege says to be successful in farming; you have to make a choice.

“Reduce the hours that you spend at your day job and focus on this or you will make losses,” he advises. Against all odds, this travel agent who is also a golf enthusiast has fallen in love with farming. Amiran believes that if the Amiran integrated approach is widely embraced, Kenya could start enjoying year-round supply of vegetables.

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