Joel Osalwa’s one-acre farm in Ekuti, Butere in Kakamega County, is the envy of the hamlet because of the various agribusiness ventures he engages in.
The farmer grows arrowroots, tree seedlings, bananas, vegetables and keeps fish.
Osalwa is busy packing tree seedlings in small plastic bags for a client when I arrive.
“I have to deliver these tree seedlings to the next village. Demand is high because of the rainy season.”
He grows eucalyptus, pine, cypress, gravellia, acacia, causurina, bisovia, jacaranda, palm, mangoes and several indigenous tree seedlings.
“I started farming sometime in 2006 with Sh7,000, Sh 2,000 that went to indigenous vegetables and Sh5,000 on tree seedlings. The traditional vegetables I grew were jute mallow (mrenda), mitoo, cowpeas, spider plant and black night shade on an eighth acre,” he recounts, noting he bought the tree seedlings from Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Maseno.
Okra, cucumber, coriander (dhania), eggplant, lettuce and capsicum are some of the crops he moved to later as he expanded his agribusiness.
“There was good market for the crops in Mumias town, and still is. I would deliver my produce to specific families earning Sh6,000 in a good week.”
He sells the tree seedlings from Sh10 to Sh1,000 each depending on the variety and size to schools, individuals and hospitals in Butere and Mumias.
“I sell grafted mangoes seedlings for Sh200 each, while the palm tree ones cost up to Sh1,000 depending on the age. In a month I end home with Sh36,000,” says Osalwa.
He further has 3,500 arrowroot plants on quarter acre. This is his third season of growing the crop.
“I started in January last year with 250 plants. After six months, they earned me Sh16,000. My third harvest will be in July, and I expect between Sh50,000 to Sh70,000,” says Osalwa, who sells the produce in Sabatia, Butere and Mumias from Sh50 each.
DIFFERENT VENTURES GIVE HIM CASH THROUGHOUT
To grow arrowroots, one digs deep to soften the soil. Holes should be six to 10 inches in depth depending on the size of the stem.
“Do not put too much soil in the hole since the crop grows upwards and will regularly need more manure and water. Weeding is necessary to avoid competition for nutrients from the soil,” he advises.
Next to a stream, he has 300 square metres fish pond that normally hosts 1,000 tilapia and catfish at any time.
He started the fish business after a series of training by the Ministry of Fisheries under the Economic Stimulus Programme.
The farmer feeds the fish on pellets that he buys at Sh1,500 per 50kg bag in Kakamega. He supplements the feeds with sukuma wiki leaves and fertilises the pond with dried chicken droppings and cow dung.
The farmer harvests the fish after seven months and sells each tilapia at Sh200 while catfish goes Sh500 to Sh600.
“I do most of the farm work with my wife and our five children, though once in a while I hire some labour. The children help a lot with the tree nursery business,” says Osalwa, noting that the different ventures enable him have constant cash flow throughout a year.
“When I am waiting for the fish to mature, I sell the tree seedlings and later the arrowroots or the herbs. This helps get money to educate my children and provide other needs. Farming is all I do.”
He regularly sells his bananas that are scattered in different parts of the farm at Sh500 each.
Prof Mathews Dida, a lecturer at Maseno University Department of Agriculture, says while mixed farming is beneficial, a farmer risks burning out as he spreads his resources such as time, money and labour to the limit.
“One should plan carefully lest this kind of farming turns out to be a burden as the farmer may be unable to maximise productivity. There is also a challenge with diseases, which may spread from one crop to another, but overally, this kind of farming is better than mono farming.”