Ereri, a small village 17km from Nanyuki Town in Laikipia County, was once a parched piece of earth, with livestock roaming in search of scarce pasture and water.
Then, it was hard to imagine that crops would thrive in such an area, with most of the owners of the parcels of land leaving them fallow having no idea how to utilise them.
However, the sleepy village with scattered manyattas is currently undergoing an agricultural revolution.
Tens of greenhouses are now dotting the hitherto bare land, with water, which was once a scarce commodity in the locality, now flowing freely from to the facilities and neighbouring farms.
Inside the greenhouses imported from Israel are healthy looking tomatoes (Ana F1 variety) and capsicums, with the produce sold in Nairobi.
“We are harvesting on average eight tonnes of tomatoes every week, which are sold in grocery shops in Nairobi as well as retail outlets,” says Monicah Wangari, the pack house manager at the farm managed by Barletta Holdings Limited.
Barletta emerged tops in the large-scale fully commercialised category in the National Farmers Award Scheme last month, receiving an award from President Uhuru Kenyatta.
It was honoured for promoting food security using modern methods and farming technologies such as greenhouses, pack house, centralised irrigation network, refrigerated truck, farming equipment, and integrated pest and disease controls methods,
The award scheme is run by Elgon Kenya and the Ministry of Agriculture.
It is easier to see why they emerged tops. The land and the greenhouses are not owned by the company, but by individuals who have entered into an agreement with Barletta Holdings to manage the investments on their behalf.
“It all started with selling and buying land, then farming came in later after we realised that the land was staying idle,” says Gerald Mwanza, the general manager of Wealthsmith Ltd, which has contracted Barletta to manage the agribusinesses.
CONCEPTUALISED AND WELL-MANAGED
In the concept, individuals buy an eighth of an acre at Sh620,000, which comes with a greenhouse measuring 240sqm.
“Some 200 investors have taken up the greenhouses growing all manner of crops but mainly tomatoes and capsicums,” says Mwanza, adding they have put up mechanisms that include employing qualified agronomists to ensure investors get return on investment.
The project has turned tens of people from all-over the country into telephone farmers.
Lilian Kemunto, who works in Nairobi, says she has two eighth acres.
“I am one of the telephone farmers working in Nairobi but someone else is working for me on the farm,” she says, noting the venture is profitable.
Alice Munene, a Mombasa-based businesswoman, terms the idea as “letting your money do the farming for you, without soiling your hands”.
Mwanza says at the beginning of the agribusiness project in 2016, they had targeted 800 clients but ended up with the current number due elections last year.
“This brought us financial distress as the importation process also took longer than expected and poor road network added more misery but we are now on the right track,” he says, noting investors sign four-year renewable contract.
Barletta Holdings, he says, is run by agricultural experts to ensure everything goes right, from planting seedlings to harvesting.
Jacob Mbugua, an agronomist from Egerton University, says contract farming can yield good results if conceptualised and managed well.
“There is already enough proof around that this model works,” said Mbugua. “The greatest challenge, however, is unforeseen risks such as unpredictable weather patterns and depressed prices for produce when they are harvested and taken to the market.”