The Nakuru-Naivasha Highway is now a sea of dust after the skies refused to open in the ongoing dry spell.
Frail herdsmen who must have walked for kilometres with their skinny animals under the scorching sun, punctuate the otherwise bare land.
Yet on crossing River Morindet at Baagi, some two kilometres off the highway, a waft of refreshing coolness greets you to a pleasant relief. Welcome to Kingdom Farm, where the Seeds of Gold team meets 35-year-old Martin Gathogo inspecting his bumper crop.
A maize crop is almost ready for harvest, if he decides to sell it green. “I had intercropped the maize with cabbages on five acres but I harvested the latter in December,” says Gathogo who is also in real estate.
From a distance, one can easily mistake a vast part of Gathogo’s land for a maize plantation, except that the crop is unusually scattered.
Moving closer, though, we come face-to-face with one of the largest watermelon plantations in Gilgil, interspersed with maize plants which serve as wind-breakers.
Gathogo, who has embraced irrigation, explains: “This place is more of a semi-desert, with scanty vegetation and is often very windy, that is why I intercrop my horticultural crops with maize because their stalks act as wind-breakers.”
On another two-acre section are cabbages that he says will be ready by March, a peak season for the produce as supply is usually low.
A high number of farmers depend on rainfall, therefore, any of them who will be harvesting cabbages at the onset of long rains when many will be planting, is likely to reap big rewards.
Gathogo has another two acres of cabbages that is ready for harvest. “Traders have been nagging me, but the highest bidder is offering Sh35 per piece while I want at least Sh40.”
Being in a dry area, Gathogo understands all too well the need to use water efficiently.
He digs shallow basins measuring one metre by one metre and fills them with manure which he gets free from his cows.
“I then plant four watermelon plants in each basin and two maize seeds on two opposite sides of each square.”
With the basins, Gathogo irrigates the crops only once a week, something which he says saves him the fuel he would have burnt pumping water to the farm.
From the eight acres of watermelons, Gathogo says he expects Sh3 million, if the Sh200,000 he reaped from a half an acre of the crop last year is anything to go by. He sells the produce in Gilgil, Nakuru and Nairobi.
Behind the crops’ farm is a herd of both Sahiwal and Boran cattle. He started out with one cow before increasing the number to the present 110.
“I bought the first cow in 2000 for Sh15,000 which I had to pay in three instalments,” says Gathogo who was then a freelance photographer, having completed his secondary school education in 1999.
“I bought some of the additional Boran females and a Sahiwal bull and cross-bred them.”
He kept the animals at his cousin’s until he bought land.
Within this farm is his zero-grazing unit which has both Ayrshire and Friesian cows totalling 18.
He gets an average of 80 litres of milk per day which he sells at Sh42 each in hotels and milk bars at Gilgil town.
He lets his indigenous cows graze freely while he feeds the zero-grazing on napier grass and maize stalks — all from his farm.
“I supplement these feeds with molasses, soya and sunflower to make it more nutritious.”
It was in 2002 when his cousin sold him a 50 by 100ft piece of land on which grew tomatoes. Gathogo would later expand this farm to an acre and continued with tomato farming.
From the acre he made an average of Sh250,000 per season.
In 2010, he increased the acreage to two and made Sh600,000, all in one season.
It was in the same year that he bought an acre for Sh70,000 only to sell it for Sh150,000 a month later.
This became the beginning of his real estate business which is now worth millions of shillings.
“It is the farming that started real estate business, but the latter has been of support to farming because that is how I got the 19 acres where I plan to do even more intensive farming.”
In the farm, he has employed five workers permanently while he usually hires between eight and 30 casuals at any time depending on the work intensity.
His major challenge, he says, is the risk of destruction of his crop by wildlife.
“I have to light fires around the farm to keep zebras and other herbivores at bay.”
WOULD BE IDEAL
Intercropping maize with crops such as cabbages and melons would be ideal, especially in open and windy areas, according to Prof Richard Mulwa, a horticultural scientist at Egerton University.
This will ensure one saves on the cost because they reduce the number of times they irrigate the crops.
Prof Mulwa says strong winds lead to the scorching of leaves, which is likely to cause death of the whole plant.
But he advises that the maize crop should be planted in such a way that they leave enough space for the other crop to get sunlight and make food.
“Methods such as strip intercropping where a farmer grows several rows of each crop and leaves some space in between would be suitable,” says Prof Mulwa. Farmers who intercrop watermelons with maize, however, need to add nitrogen fertiliser to their crops as the two would compete for this particular nutrient thus causing a deficiency.
Prof Mulwa says areas with high temperatures are suitable for horticultural farming as long as farmers have a way to get water and deal with the strong winds.