TIRED OF COUNTING MONEY IN THE BANK, I QUIT TO FARM

Former banker and tele-farmer, Muriithi inspects cucumbers he grows in a greenhouse in his farm in Chuka where he now practices business farming. He keeps a variety of livestock and grows different crops in his farm. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By CAROLINE WAMBUI
A drive along Kangoro-Rubate Road in Chuka leaves one weary as the road is bumpy and dusty.
The situation is made worse by the fact that one drives at a snail’s pace as the sun sears, making sitting in the vehicle uncomfortable.
After about a 3km drive, we arrive at Kagumo Hort-Farm, a three-and-half-acre venture fenced with Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican sunflower).
Owner Muriithi Musa, dressed in a blue overall, a matching hat and a black pair of gumboots, is busy feeding chickens when we arrive.
“Currently I have 45 Kienyeji birds after selling 65 during the Christmas holiday to residents at between Sh800 and Sh1,000. Besides the mash, I also offer them crushed cassava, pawpaws and sukuma wiki.”
Looking at Muriithi, 46, one admires his love and enthusiasm for farming, as chickens are not his only venture.
The farmer, a former banker, keeps a variety of livestock and grows different crops with his farm resembling a mall, where several businesses are hosted under one roof.
“I have over seven agribusinesses in total on my three acres and each is returning me profit,” he says with a smile.
It is three years since the farmer quit his job after 18 years to get into farming as a business, having been a telephone farmer for quite some time.
“I followed my passion when I felt I was ready to go into farming as a business once I had established a solid market for my produce and took a loan of Sh200,000 to expand the agribusiness.”
As a telephone farmer, Muriithi says he did not find it easy to run the farm.
Muriithi with his wife feed the goats.
Muriithi with his wife feed the goats they keep in their farm in Chuka. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“I had to make frequent visits and also incurred losses as I had not employed qualified agricultural personnel. Those who were there could not manage the farm well, especially when it came to record-keeping,” says Muriithi, as he thanks them though for making him see the potential of the business as it still returned some profit.
EXPENSIVE FEEDS AND PREDATORS
Besides chickens, he keeps rabbits, goats, bees and fish and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables.
At the rabbit farm, he feeds his 10 New Zealand White animals on Rhodes grass, sweet potato vines, sukuma wiki and pellets.
“I only sell the small ones, when they are three or four months at Sh1,500 for people who want to start rabbit farming business.”
Away from the rabbit farm, he has a fish pond that hosts 500 catfish.
“I rear catfish because they are easy to manage and are fast maturing, attaining 750g in about eight months. They also feed well especially when it is sunny as it is now but during the cold seasons, they rely on planktons although I also feed them on vegetables and lucerne.”
He sells the fish on Thursdays to the Ministry of Agriculture in Chuka as there is a fish eating day, ranging from Sh80-Sh250 depending on the size.
“Expensive feeds and predators like King Fisher birds are some of the major challenges I have to grapple with and I have to employ someone to scare them,” he says, adding to succeed as a fish farmer, one should have a regular supply of water, use dam liners that would enable one control diseases and predators.
In addition, the water will be warmer promoting the growth of the fish.
At the goat farm, Muriithi rears six goats of the Saanen, Toggenburg and a cross of Galla and Toggenburg breeds. He keeps them for milk, his own consumption and for sale.
“I get five litres of milk from two goats daily selling a litre at Sh70 while I also sell three months goat kids at Sh12,000 each,” he says, adding he feeds them on mulberry, calliandra, sweet potato vines, leucaena and tithonia.
MIXED FARMING
Dr Kimani Kamau of Nkubu Dairy Goat Farmers Association says goats’ ability to adapt to various climatic conditions and their tolerance to hot and cold climates makes it easy to rear in the region.
“They have few demands in terms of housing and management and can thrive on a variety of leaves, shrubs, bushes and kitchen waste. Goats are more productive per unit of investment and have a younger slaughter age and have fewer ailments.”
Muriithi has 21 langstroth hives from which he harvests 15kg of honey after about every three months.
Muriithi sorts strawberries.
Muriithi sorts strawberries that he also grows in the farm. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“I process the honey using a machine I have, package in different quantities and sell to people at most for Sh1,000 per kilo,” says the farmer, who picked his agricultural knowledge from trainings by Amiran Ltd, agricultural shows, farmers’ workshops and Mwea Aquaculture Farm.
Muriithi’s farm is also home to four greenhouses, two that host strawberries.
“I grow strawberries because they only require harvesting, spraying and pruning that I do after every two months.
Flowering takes place after two or three months of planting and harvesting can continue for an average of three to four years,” he says, warning that one should watch for spider mites that attack the crop and to eradicate them, he sprays organic pesticide made from Mexican Merigold and rabbit urine.  
He sells the strawberries to Magunas and Jatomy supermarkets at Sh150 per quarter a kilo.
In the other two greenhouses, Muriithi grows cucumber and Honey Kiss Melon variety, which has a bright yellow skin and an oval shape with a pleasingly strong scent of honey. The melon originated from China over 700 years ago.
“Their extra-ordinary sweetness increases their demand and I sell each for an average of Sh100,” says Muriithi, whose first farming venture was bananas and employs five workers on need basis.
To add to his list of fruits, Muriithi also grows grapes, pineapples, mangoes and pepino melon, which is famous for its natural sweetness, vitamins namely A, C, K and B and is also an excellent source of fibre and a natural antioxidant.
For the grapes, a quarter a kilo goes for Sh200 while pepino goes for Sh30 a piece.
The fruits occupy two-and-a-half acres and so far, he has invested some Sh1.2 million in the agribusiness.
HAVE SOME SAVINGS
On the farm, the farmer says he shuns inorganic fertiliser by making his own from animal and crop waste.
“I use tithonia, crashed bones and eggshells, waste from the goats, chicken, rabbits and trash from the farm where I mix in a pit and it stays there for 63 days after which is good for use,” says Muriithi, noting his business broke even.
For foliar fertiliser, the farmer mixes tithonia, Mexican merigold and rabbit urine, with the concoction taking 14 days before it is ready for use.
Water from the fish pond, which is rich in minerals is normally sieved at the source, and sprayed occasionally on the various farms to boost fertility.
When the fish pond is being cleaned, the residue from the pond also finds its way to the banana plantation.
David Mugambi, a lecturer at Chuka University, Department of Natural Resource Management, says before quitting one’s job to go into agribusiness, one should consider the risks involved.
Muriithi inspects grapes.
Muriithi inspects grapes that he grows in the farm. PHOTO | CAROLINE WAMBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“You should have some good savings to cushion you from financial shocks. It is also not advisable to finance a starter business from a loan because borrowing will put pressure on you,” he says, adding one needs to be patient to get profit to compensate for investment.
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Phone Farming Tips
  • Schedule daily telephone updates with the workers.
  • Start with the general feedback about the farm, then enquire about any signs of diseases or pests.
  • Hire a trusted and qualified manager to oversee the day-to-today farm management.
  • Trust what the workers say but verify always.
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    MAKING THE SWITCH
Switching from telephone farming to farming as a business is not always easy.
If well managed, however, it turns out successful but usually the success rate of such changeovers is about 40 per cent, according to Samuel Munyiri, area sales manager, Central Rift, at Osho Chemicals.
He suggests that one should first run the agribusiness as a side hustle to gain confidence before making transition.
To be effective in the business, according to him, one should first have a deep insight and understanding of the market where he/she runs the agribusiness.
“Have a good survey of the market as you wouldn’t want to run a business where produce will not sell,” he says adding that you should also observe market trends.
The farming consultant stresses one should also know the prevailing climatic conditions of the region they are investing.
Guidance and consultancy from a knowledgeable person like an agronomist, extension officers or officials from Ministry of Agriculture offices are also fundamental in successfully achieving one’s goal. One should work with a trustworthy agri-expert in the project at least until they get a foothold on the undertaking.
According to Munyiri, the farmer shouldn’t, however, expect to earn profits so soon after making the switch.
“There are ventures in which one may get the returns quickly, but there are others in which you have to be patient to earn your returns,” he says adding that crop ventures usually take a while for returns to materialise, while others such as poultry farming return income faster.
He points out lack of access to expert advice, climate changes, pressure from pests and diseases, lack of capital, labour, shifting markets, glut and marketing as some of the hiccups one must contend with.
The good news is that there are cooperative societies that help agripreneurs navigate the murky waters of business farming, by offering capital, loans and extension services among other incentives.
Due to the risky nature of making the switch, these financers also encourage insuring one’s business to cover losses in case of any.
Venture into agribusinesses that are easy to run and profitable as one starts.
“Mushrooms are easier to cultivate, are cheaper to grow as they do not require much capital but have higher returns with a kilo of the product ranging in price from Sh400 to Sh1,000 depending on the type and quality,” he says.
SOURCE: SEEDSOFGOLD