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Investors turn to greenhouses for construction cash

Housing cooperatives and developers are encouraging plot owners to try farming so as to earn money for building homes

Wahinya Henry and Milliam Murigi @PeopleDailyKe

Florence Chibi, a resident of Ruai in Nairobi, bought an eighth of an acre plot from a friend who wanted to re-locate to Nyahururu. She did not have cash to develop it. Back in Nyahururu, she heard from her neighbours about the greenhouse-farming concept through Kilimo Biashara projects. “I had saved some cash.

I got a loan from a financial institution and put up a greenhouse,” says Chibi. From sales of assorted vegetables and more of her savings, she was able to build a four bedroomed house after three years.

“A team of experts from an agrochemical firm managed farming activities for us at a fee,” says Chibi. And she’s not the only one. Several property development companies, housing cooperatives and land-buying companies have been enticing their members to invest in greenhouse farming.

This utilises their idle plots of land as well as earns money to help fund construction of their dream houses later. Around Nairobi, food-producing arable land in the peri-urban areas has been turned into concrete jungles. “The typical food baskets around Kiambu county, for instance, have shrunk.

Land there continues to be subdivided into plots. Real estate development is the in thing,” says Catherine Njeri Mwangi, Head of Commercial, Property Reliance Company (PRC).

Njeri said demand for food in urban areas is high because of the rising population. Potential homeowners are taking advantage of this rising demand for food in towns to make an extra coin by engaging in farming in their otherwise idle plots.

Rising population

A mix of youth, middle-level managers and executives are combining the wish to have a dream house on one hand and the ready market for food on the other hand by putting up greenhouses.

According to a study by PRC two years ago in Nairobi, only 19 per cent of residents engage in agriculture. About 57 per cent said they lacked time to manage farms as the main reason for not engaging in agriculture.

A significant proportion also sighted inadequate land, high management costs, lack of agricultural knowhow and marketing constraints as significant bottlenecks. Property developers are encouraging plot owners to earn income by investing in greenhouses instead of leaving the land idle as the owners engage in efforts to access mortgages and loans for construction of houses.

A team appointed by property developers gets down to work and manages the green- houses for the client at an extra cost. “Clients have embraced the concept for the purposes of making an extra coin. The rising population in urban areas needs more food.

Property owners have seen a business opportunity,” says Njeri of PRC. The firm recently launched a Kilimo Biashara initiative at Isinya, Kajiado county. An eighth of an acre costs Sh900,000. Plot owners were sensitised on the benefits of the greenhouses.

“Our Kilimo Biashara started with a pilot project in Aberdare View in Nyeri county and now Mbuni Estate in Kajiado,” says PRC Group chief executive officer, Abraham Muriithi.

According to Njeri, PRC has a technical team charged with the day-to-day management of the greenhouses supported by partners responsible for putting up the greenhouses.

The greenshouse infrastructure costs Sh300,000. A management fee of at least Sh60,000 is charged against an income of Sh150,000 to Sh200,000. “Earnings are pegged on the size of a greenhouse and the produce,” she says.

Low-cost homes

Other land-buying companies and housing cooperatives involved in managing greenhouses for the members include Stima Investments, who have a project dubbed Malindi Breeze Ocean Kilimo located 5km from Malindi town on the proposed Malindi-Galana-Tsavo West Road.

Diamond Property Merchants has an agribusiness package dubbed Bethany City in Kajiado. Uriithi Housing Cooperative Society has ongoing projects in Kilifi, Murang’a and Nyeri counties. Optiven Limited runs Kilimo Tujijenge project.

According to George Wachiuri, Optiven’s CEO and founder the reason behind this initiative is because large chunks of land remain underutilised as owners await financing to build. “They can now earn money through agribusiness, feed the world, and construct their own homes later,” he says.

Optiven has gone further by opening a Sh20 million factory in Kajiado county where they will be producing low-cost construction materials. Wachiuri says Kenya is already at the threshold of adopting alternative building technology such as bricks, hollow blocks and expanded polystyrene technology.

“This is why we have ventured into this business. We will be producing hollow blocks, road cabs, cabro and concrete poles for low-cost buildings,” he said.

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