After a one-and-a-half hour drive on a bumpy murram road, we enter into William Simiyu’s home in Navakholo, Kakamega, where we find him packing sun dried mushrooms into a gunny bag.
He is doing it fast; racing against the setting sun to ensure that he stashes away his produce before it gets moist due to the breeze.
Under the rays of the setting sun, a dole of doves, a brood of chickens and a herd of goats trot towards their pens. A quick scan of the vast compound also shows a greenhouse, palm trees, banana stems, eucalyptus trees and several grass-thatched huts.
As soon as he finishes packing the dry oyster mushroom, Simiyu lifts the 90kg bag saying “these are ready for my market” as his eyes light up.
Simiyu is a jack of all trades. He has transformed his over seven-acre farm into a value addition hub.
“I enjoy learning new ways of putting my farm into maximum use. Every time a new method of farming is introduced, I never shy away from trying a hand in it,” a jovial Simiyu says as he tightly secures the mouth of the gunny bag.
A retired teacher, Simiyu started growing sugarcane on his farm, just like every other farmer in the area. However, with time, the 18-month long wait for the cane to mature, coupled with poor prices, saw him grow more maize.
However, when palm trees were introduced by the Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation officers in 2002, he was among those who readily picked them up, although he wasn’t sure about the farming.
“I had never seen palm trees in Kakamega. For me it was a farming shock.”
To start the palm tree farming, Simiyu bought six seedlings at Sh100 each. He later increased the number to 50. As instructed, he dug holes and put in two tins of compost manure.
“I had to plant the seedlings 12m apart to allow comfortable growth as the leaves spread.”
The trees that today stand tall in Simiyu’s compound took three years to grow and yield fruits. He was also trained on how to extract oil from the palm oil seeds.
It is a process that entails boiling the reddish seeds to soften before crushing them in a mortar to further soften them into a pulp.
“I then put the paste in clean boiling water for between 30 minutes and one hour to separate the oil from the chaff and leave it to cool,” explains Simiyu.
When cold, the condensed oil is easy to scoop from the water. He then heats it in a sufuria to allow for evaporation of water.
From one bunch of palm oil seeds, Simiyu extracts a litre of oil, which he uses at home for cooking. He also uses some of the oil to make soap.
“I mix the oil, water and various chemicals to make my soap. From one litre of oil, I can make up to 12 bars of palm oil soap in a week, which I sell at Sh60 each,” says Simiyu, who did not disclose the exact ingredients, saying it is a business secret.
But palm oil is not the only crop he does value addition on before selling. Simiyu also puts his oyster mushrooms into good use. In the two grass-thatched huts, he harvests mushrooms which he dries for preservation.
“A dry harvest can weigh up to 5kg which I sell at Sh2,000 a kilo. I harvest the mushroom every day for six months,” he says.
Simiyu’s main mushroom market is Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology where he has a contract for the institution to rebrand and sell his products to supermarkets. He also makes mushroom flour from the crop.
“I take soya beans, maize and the dried mushroom to the grinder to get the flour, which I sell at Sh120 per 2kg.”
And when one would think Simiyu is contented with what he does, he gets an extra coin by selling logs of eucalyptus trees to Kenya Power through agents at Sh5,000 each. He further sells offcuts to villagers and schools from Sh4,000 to Sh5,000.