Just about 2km from Ongata Rongai town on the outskirts of Nairobi sits the Impala farm, 45-acres surrounded by a chain-link fence and a huge metallic gate.
The vast farm is fallow, but its owner Esther Ndirangu believes that it is just a matter of time before it hosts fish ponds, horticultural crops, vertical gardening units, dairy shed, pigsties and poultry pens.
A pessimist may dismiss the notion, but Ndirangu is a dreamer, a big one. Her vision of Impala in the next few years is that it will be a gated farm, where people grow crops and keep livestock in a secure environment.
“I have been in the real estate business for over 10 years, but it is only recently that I decided to try this new path as the appetite for urban farming increases,” she says.
She recounts that before going into the business, people approached her seeking for plots where they would put up agribusiness enterprises.
However, when she took them to land on the outskirts of Nairobi, the idea of standalone farms scared them due to security issues.
“I then figured out that the gated farm may be the best option,” says Ndirangu, adding she acquired the land in Ongata Rongai, whose characteristic black cotton soil is typically fertile for crop cultivation, and fenced it.
She then drilled a borehole, and constructed water tanks.
Ndirangu is confident that the growing urban population needs food which calls for innovative farming in urban areas.
The expansive farm is subdivided into quarter acres. “A farmer is free to start agribusiness although we encourage organic farming so that the producer and the consumer have healthy products,” she says.
She adds that she has sold a number of the plots and is hopeful the others will go before year end.
With population rising in Rongai and other Nairobi suburbs, the produce will find a ready market.
Dr Nicholas Ozor, an agriculture scientist and Director of African Technology and Policy Studies, says a gated farm is a ‘one stop shop’ for an agricultural extension officer to serve farmers.
The concept offers smallholder farmers’ the opportunity to pool their resources together and even form cooperatives for marketing their products or obtain loans.
“The benefits of having small farms within one farm is that the large acreage offers a platform of a sustained quantity output, which can be sold to niche markets like supermarkets,” Dr Ozor says.
In the case of mixed farming, waste products such as cow dung or poultry droppings can be used in vegetable farms and crop residues as animal fodder.
The farmers can also brand their products under a single name of the gated farm, which is a formidable marketing method.
However, to maximise profits, a farmer needs an individual business plan.
He advises farmers to insure their crops and livestock so that when there is an outbreak of disease, one does not incur loses.