When 30-year-old Kenan Kirwa ventured into horticulture two years ago, it was a case of wait-and-see.
The holder of a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies from Pwani University had little knowledge in agriculture, let alone horticulture.
Armed with Sh270,000 and an acre of land given to him by his father in Ziwa, Uasin Gishu County, Kirwa built a 30x8m greenhouse in which he hoped to grow tomatoes, capsicum and onions.
Three years down the line, Kirwa’s 11-acre farm, now called Jakena Enterprises Ltd, boasts of 16 greenhouses.
Jakena’s success has not come easily. Kirwa says one must be ready for the many hurdles along the agricultural production chain, all the way to the market.
“As a new farmer, one needs a lot of information. Unfortunately, such information is scarce or scanty,” he says.
According to the farmer, horticulture is a delicate industry that requires comprehensive information and guidance from agronomists on crop suitability to the region, the nutrient balance to the soil, pest and disease control and other issues.
In addition, securing the market for his ever growing production is a tough task.
Despite having a solid market base, Kirwa says increased productivity and flooding of the market at times pushes him to look for new customers.
“The horticulture market is very unpredictable. You cannot rely on an existing one. We at times have to look for a bigger market since our production keeps growing,” he says.
GETTING VITAL INFORMATION
In 2018, for example, the market was flooded with tomatoes from Uganda.
This led to a big drop in prices and made Kirwa to take his produce to Nakuru, Kakamega, Kisumu and other far-flung markets.
One of the greatest challenges horticulture farmers like Kirwa face is lack of modern storage facilities.
“Many farmers do not have such equipment due to their high cost. Maintaining them is also costly,” he says.
In the said period in 2018, more than 1.5 tonnes of tomatoes from Kirwa’’s farm got spoilt.
Despite the challenges, the farmer has turned his venture into a success, increasing production to 54 tonnes every year.
His first yield was 15 tonnes. Kirwa has four employees and hires 15 on casual basis.
“Aside from management, marketing and networking experience I have acquired in this business, I can put food on the table and settle my bills,” he says.
Kirwa credits his success to the internet. He says getting vital information and market for his produce digitally has improved his business.
“We use digital platforms like websites, blogs and social media extensively,” he says.
He adds that most seed producers provide manuals on best practices on their websites.
Such sites also give information and education on the effective timing between planting and time of harvesting, thus making it easy to make predictions about the market.