The area around Starehe Girls High School in Kiambu County has seen tremendous growth in the recent past. It is to a home in one of these posh housing estates that we head to one fine morning.
It looks nothing different from the other mushrooming estates in the county. At the entrance of our target homestead, we find workers loading parked fresh farm produce onto a waiting car.
Benson Wakaba and his wife, Esther Wairimu, are getting ready to ferry fruits and vegetables, which they have just harvested on their farm, to the market.
For the last three years, this has been their routine.
We are ushered into the compound where we find a bungalow surrounded by well manicured grass together with banana plants, sugar-cane and other crops.
The couple bought their one-acre piece of prime land three years ago, intending to build a family home.
The area is ideal for both residential and rental houses, which have better returns, but the Wakabas chose to build a house on only half of it and farm on the rest.
Instead of planting flowers for beauty, he planted 50 pawpaw trees, guavas and some bananas.
For his bananas, Mr Wakaba, who runs a private primary school, St Tito’s, bought quality tissue seedlings from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
DECIDED TO COMMERCIALISE
“I had never done farming before. I tried it just to keep myself busy and because I love crops and animals. But after the crops matured, we got good market for it,” Mr Wakaba says.
Traders from Kiambu market and his neighbours would stream to his compound to buy the bananas and pawpaws.
“We had not seen the commercial importance of the crops we were planting. My wife begun selling the produce to her friends and the clientele grew, so we decided to commercialise it,” Mr Wakaba says.
They decided to take the venture more seriously.
“We planted more bananas and pawpaw. We also decided to do away with maize and replaced it with vegetables. We sunk a borehole for irrigation and hired some labourers,” he says.
Mr Wakaba has built two water tanks with a volume of 70,000 and 30,000 litres and installed an automatic drip irrigation system.
Presently, he has about 200 tissue bananas, 400 paw paws, kale, spinach, black night shade, and capsicum, among other vegetables.
While Mr Wakaba spends most of the time supervising the farm, his wife, who also runs a beauty shop in Kiambu town, deals with the marketing and selling of the produce.
While leaving home in the morning, she delivers her orders to wholesale and retail clients.
Occasionally, she is forced to make a trip back to fetch more produce.
“We deliver the produce on order. We deliver to traders at Kiambu market, while other clients come to collect their orders. The clients prefer our produce because it is clean and fresh,” Ms Wairimu said.
RETAIL AND WHOLESALE
On a typical day, the couple makes Sh3,000 from bananas (Fhia type) and Sh1,500 from vegetables. The bananas and vegetables are harvested throughout the year.
“From a bunch of bananas, we earn between Sh600 and Sh1,600,” she says.
The banana types in their farm are Giant Cavendish, Grand Nain, which are ripened, and Kampala Green that is cooked.
They have 400 pawpapaw trees of the Solo Sunrise variety, each which will yield about 200 fruits each.
From the crop, he expects to make between Sh4 million and Sh8 million. A fruit, he said, goes for between Sh50 and Sh100. They sell both on retail and wholesale basis.
Though they have not been using experts in their farming, Mr Wakaba has been reading a lot of farming related literature.
However, he intends to work with experts from Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri to improve on his farming.
After realising how lucrative banana and pawpaw farming is, Mr Wakaba decided to buy a seven-acre piece of land in Githunguri where he intends to extend his farming.
Recently, he bought 50,000 seeds of the Sunrise pawpaw variety. He has already planted 4,000 of them on a seed bed. He intends to sell them to interested farmers and plant the rest on the seven-acre farm.
The seeds were sourced at the Kenya Agricultural Research Centre in Pakera, Baringo.
He also has tissue culture banana seedlings which are available for sale to farmers.
At the farm, the couple also rears Kenbro chicken, which not only feed on the crop waste and produce eggs, but also provide organic manure.
The farm does not use any chemical or fertiliser.
The couple has been receiving farmers who are interested in learning their kind of farming. They charge a small fee for this.
Wakaba intends to add value to his produce to increase his returns.
“I can advise people to venture into farming. There is a ready enough market. You can reap big even on a quarter-acre piece of land,” he says.
Mr Stephen Mureithi, the principal at Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre in Githunguri, says if well managed, small farms can produce quality and quantity produce.
“With the shrinking of land, farmers should think of managing the small portions they have,” Mr Mureithi.