Some 400 metres from Ndagani Chuka on the entrance next to St Lucy Hospital in Tharaka Nithi County sits Cefra Eco-Tourism and Crocodile Farm.
The signboard announcing the farm at a road offers a glimpse of what to expect, but not all.
Cefra, which occupies two-acres is not your ordinary farm as it hosts three crocodiles (two females and a male), chameleons, tortoises and 11 varieties of ornamental birds, all for agritourism purposes.
The birds include ring neck pheasants, bantams (silkie, booted, frizzle, pekin, Japanese and Belgian bearded), ducks, turkeys, Egyptian geese, guinea fowls (lavender, pied and pearl), fantail pigeons, peacocks and brahma chicken.
Further, they grow over 17 different varieties of bananas, both exotic and local, with a full-equipped Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services approved laboratory.
“Cefra is an agritourism farm where people visit and see the birds, crops and animals and learn at a small fee,” says Franklin Riungu, the director.
Riungu says he came up with the idea after doing research on a viable agribusiness he can undertake in the county.
“I had acquired the land in 2007 but had not found a unique business idea. Everyone then was investing in hostels but that is not the route I wanted to take,” he says of the farm he started last year.
The former Nairobi East regional sales manager at Barclays Bank resigned to venture into the business, which set him Sh10.6 million back.
LICENCE FROM KWS
Most of the money went on building structures to host the reptiles and the birds.
“I contacted the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials who offered advice on the kind of structures I should build for the crocs, which include a pond, a drying area and plenty of sand. Later, they sold me the reptiles.”
One needs a licence from the KWS to rear the animals, which go for Sh1,500 per every species.
According to Riungu, the reptiles are easy to manage as tortoises feed on fruits, vegetables and insects while crocodiles have key interesting features that make them easy to rear and manage.
“They can stay for long without food. During cold months or when there is drought, they go dormant by falling into a deep sleep. We feed them once a week on raw cow, goat or rabbit meat where each croc gets a kilo or two depending on the weather,” he says, noting he spends Sh2,000 a week to feed the crocs.
He adds that the crocodiles have a sharp sense that makes them good predators as they detect a prey either on land or water from far.
For the birds that he acquired from a farm in Karen, Nairobi, he has built for them special houses, incorporating inside the ‘natural environment’ that include perching areas and dry grass.
The birds feed on millet, sorghum, cassava and they crash whole maize for them.
The animals and birds attract tens of people each day, including students, each parting with Sh100 for the visit and Sh200 for agricultural training per session.
“For the schools we have a limit of two per month. We host an average of 30-50 people every day,” says Riungu, adding the farm has a picnic area where people relax and eat snacks, beverages and lunch, which they sell to them
More cash comes from the banana farm and lab, where they train farmers on good husbandry that include how to get suckers, grow the crop, harvest and add value. They further sell seedlings to farmers.
“We also sell the bananas, but for the sweet potato, we are currently multiplying them awaiting certification from KEPHIS so that we can start selling the vines. The little we harvest now mostly we feed to our animals and birds,” says Barnice Wambui, the farm manager.
She adds to grow the two crops, one needs to have plantlets that are disease-free to maximise the output since they can predict the harvesting period, and get good produce.
But it is not all rosy. Riungu notes that due to poor roads, they lack visitors when it rains because the roads become inaccessible.
Joshua Ogendo, an Associate Professor of Crop Protection and the Dean Faculty of Agriculture, Egerton University, says that agrotourism is more than just visiting the farm.
“Apart from creating an environment where people can relax and learn, awareness on agriculture products and technologies is created. The environment should be protected and employment opportunities created.”
He notes that both the county and national governments need to do a lot more to promote this emerging form of agribusiness by committing more resources to the development of agricultural technologies that people can visit farms and learn.
“Agrotourism is a critical component of any nation that values its farmers as the technologies developed by researchers are passed on to various people. India, Israel and Britain are some of the countries that are earning millions in foreign exchange from agrotourism.”