Inside the densely populated settlement near Ruiru Prisons in Kiambu County stands out a home hosting three greenhouses.
Peter Thuo farms here. The half-acre family property hosts his parents and siblings’ homes and on the remaining space, an eighth-acre, stands the three greenhouses measuring 8x30 metres each where Thuo farms assorted herbs and vegetables
Seeds of Gold team finds him harvesting the produce that includes eggplant, cucumber, thorn melon, basil, mint, carrots and thyme.
Thuo, however, does not sell the produce, in particular the herbs, raw. He ferries them to one of his shops located about a kilometre away where he adds value by blending with various fruit juices.
He started farming 11 years ago when he was employed by an organisation that was dealing with green energy, and his task was marketing and promoting energy-saving jikos and biogas. He mostly worked with farmers.
While working with the organisation, he secured a sponsorship from the Ministry of Youths Affairs where he did short training in general agriculture, management and green business at Eastern College in Embu in 2010.
After the training, Thuo, 32, chose to venture into greenhouse farming, but there was a challenge. He had no enough capital.
“I bought a small greenhouse (5 by 10 metres) at a cost of Sh30,000 and planted red capsicum which took two months to mature. I sold the produce to supermarkets and local markets and made some Sh40,000 which I ploughed back,” he recounts.
From the proceeds of his investment, Thuo acquired two bigger greenhouses measuring 8x30 metres each and planted tomatoes that earned him over Sh200,000.
His venture got the attention of the Ministry of Agriculture which helped him secure a scholarship through JICA to study rural and urban technology in agriculture in Japan.
The training took nine months, and Thuo returned to his small farm and applied the skills he had acquired. Instead of planting the ordinary crops, he planted basil, a herb that belongs to the mint family and can either be used in cooking or to make salads thanks to its medicinal value and is very popular among the Asian community. From three greenhouses, he was able to produce between 150 and 200kg of basil per week that he sold at Sh400 each.
Though he was getting good returns, he ventured into value addition hoping to increase profits by prolonging the shelf-life of his produce.
He opened Juice Tech, an outlet in Ruiru town, from where he makes various fruit juices that he blends with the herbs harvested from his greenhouses.
“The shop provides sufficient market for my produce because it absorbs all of it. It also helps me eliminate wastage since I harvest depending on the shop’s demand,” says Thuo.
He uses the herbs to flavour his fruit juices that include mango, pineapple, passion and orange making them more appealing to his customers.
“When blending, I put a few leaves of the plants in the mixture, turning the juice into a healthy concoction since the herbs are rich with vitamins and minerals,” offers Thuo, noting he also adds ginger in the juices depending on what the customer wants.
He sells a 300ml glass of juice at Sh100, which according to him without the flavour would cost Sh50. Production of the juice makes him reap good profits since it triples the price of the herbs.
Ordinarily, a kilo of basil fetches between Sh200 and Sh300 but once he blends with the juices, he earns up to Sh1,000 from the same.
The herbs help in correcting stomach upsets, opening up the respiratory system when one has a cold, assist in digestion and reduction of sugar levels.
NOT A COMPLEX VENTURE
“The herbs are also rich with vitamins and are a good source of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.”
Herbs like basil and thyme can also be used as salad or put in meat while cooking. Mint, rosemary and thyme can also be put in coffee or tea,” says Thuo.
Before he ventured into value addition, he usually planted not more than two crops at a time, but today, he is able to plant the seven crops at ago since his juice outlet provides ready market.
“With the juice shop, I am guaranteed Sh2,500 per day, six days a week from each of my three greenhouses,” he offers.
Besides farming herbs and adding value to the produce, he has registered Green Tech Construction and Consultancy, through which he offers agro-consultancy to greenhouse farmers.
Joseph Mureithi, the principal at Waruhiu Agricultural Development Centre (ADC) in Githunguri, Kiambu, says many farmers in search of profitability are shifting from ordinary crops to herbs.
“There is growing demand for the herbs and if the community is sensitised more about their value, the demand will grow,” he says.
According to him, the little efforts being done by farmers to do value addition on them increase their cost by up to five times compared to selling them raw.
“If 100g of the herbs are dried in the sun and properly packed, they cost about Sh500. If added as ingredients in the making of juices, due to their nutritional value and the flavour, the cost of automatically shoots up,” Mureithi says, adding that herbs farming is not a complex venture.