A few weeks ago, I attended a farmers’ event on the outskirts of Nairobi and I must say the huge attendance attested the growing interest in farming among women and men, the young and the old.
From the look on the faces of farmers and the questions they later asked, one could tell the hunger for agricultural knowledge.
I picked three major concerns from the questions the farmers asked. In no order of priority, they are marketing of the farm produce, pest and disease identification and control and how to maximise production.
Jane Njeri, a tomato farmer, said that her major challenge was market of her farm produce. This is common to most farmers due to market fluctuations, exploitation by middlemen, inadequate or no marketing, which actually results to huge post-harvest losses.
But when I looked at Jane, she was holding a smart phone in her right hand. “That is where one of the solution to your problem lies,” I told her.
A large number of farmers still rely on analogue ways of selling their produce yet they are ardent users of mobile phones.
They believe that they must labour growing crops and then call the broker to come and buy from their farms.
Digital or online marketing tools reach many potential customers and eliminate brokers. They are a convenient and easy way to sell since one only needs a cell phone or a computer and the access to the internet.
“There are quite a number of platforms to sell your products like Facebook, WhatsApp and various websites,” I told the farmers.
“Through these platforms, you can reach consumers directly or the mama mbogas, grocery or hotel operators who offer better prices than brokers.”
Well, before you sell your produce to places like hotels or schools which do not pay immediately, have a written contract with the buyer.
“As a farmer, it’s also important to be a consistent supplier of the produce to maintain the customers,” I told Jane.
I finalised the answer by pointing out that before one farms, the most key thing to do is to conduct a market
assessment that involves identifying the potential customer, their location and the demand for the product one intends to produce.
“How do I minimise the use of chemicals to control pests and diseases on my farm,” Brian inquired.
“Prevention is always better than cure and still applies in crop production,” I said. “It’s vital to prevent the occurrence of pests and diseases during the production period. Preventing the occurrence of pests and diseases starts during the selection of planting materials where one should acquire certified seeds,” I told him.
Use of substrate such as cocopeat and peat moss readily available in agrovets when raising seedlings helps one grow plants that are free of pests and diseases.
“All this is part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which you should put into practice. It also includes controlling weeds that harbour pests and hosts some of the disease, having appropriate rotational programmes and intercropping,” I told the farmer.
Lastly, Nancy inquired how to maximise production per unit area on her farm. This is critical to every farmer who wants to profit from her venture.
“You see, it’s important to observe the plant population per metre square having in mind that different crops have different spacing due to their growth habits, nutritional and water needs and growing period,” I told the farmer.
For instance, lettuce requires 30cm by 30cm spacing making a total of six plants per metre square while the spacing for tomatoes is 40cm by 60cm making a total of four plants per metre square. Expected yields for tomatoes per metre square is 6-7kg.
“Timely planting and carrying out management practices such as fertiliser application, weeding, pest control and diseases effectively plays a major in maximising the produce,” I concluded.