Some 500 metres off Waiyaki Way in Rungiri, Kikuyu, eight greenhouses stand on half-acre.
The structures host tomatoes and they belong to a youth group named Vahbiz Enterprises.
Hope Kimani is pruning tomatoes in one of the greenhouses when the Seeds of Gold team visits.
She, alongside five others are members of the group, and are the proprietors of the greenhouses measuring 24 by 8 metres, where they grow up to 12,000 tomato plants.
“We started the venture in May after a three-month agribusiness training at Miyamar college. We were then offered
Sh700,000 loan by GIZ and Kenya Commercial Bank Foundation’s through its 2Jiajiri programme,” says Hope, who is in her 30s, adding they have leased the land for 10 years.
However, the group does not use soil in cultivating the crops, they grow the tomatoes and other vegetables on pumice, which are granules from volcanic rock.
They learnt the technique at the college, where there is a demo farm.
Prof Dominic Mwenja, the proprietor of Miyamar International College, says land is increasingly becoming scarce, therefore, adopting technologies that use minimal space and resources is key in enhancing the country’s food security.
At the demo farm in Kikuyu, they grow capsicum, pak choi (Chinese vegetable), strawberry, lettuce, tomatoes, cabbages, collard greens (sukuma wiki), and traditional vegetables such as managu.
Soil, according to Prof Mwenja, is a good conduit for transmission of pests and diseases.
“We teach the youth how to use pumice, which are volcanic granules, that we get from Mt Longonot. This method is part of the hydroponics technology. It ensures there is minimal infestation of plants by pests or diseases,” says Mwenja.
He notes that pumice is porous, thus, enabling optimum drainage.
“The growing media also improves soil aeration and promotes strong root growth making it ideal for cultivation in pots,” he says.
The farms are essentially hanging gardens made using giant pipes, rubber troughs and plastic containers, erected on wooden platforms and are filled with pumice and fitted with drip lines.
The drip lines, according to him, feed the plants with just enough water, which also contains the essential nutrients that each plants need.
“We water our tomatoes three times per day, with water in which the required minerals are dissolved. These include potassium, copper, phosphorus, manganese and nitrogen, among others, at different stages of the crops’ growth,” says Hope.
Vegetables such as collard greens mature in seven weeks after being transplanted and tomatoes take about three months to be ready for the market.
“We do not use pesticides on our crops but we mix a concoction of garlic, neem (mwarubaini) and chilli and also use sticky traps that effectively control pests that creep into the greenhouses,” says Hope.
Apprentices, according to Prof Mwenja, are trained for three months, after which they are offered financing, land is leased to them at subsidised rates, they get subsidised inputs, markets for their produce, and business development services.
“We have partnered with GIZ and KCB Foundation’s 2Jiajiri initiative which equips the youth and micro-entrepreneurs with essential skills to empower them in agribusiness,” he says.
William Kirwa, an agribusiness lecturer at the Strathmore Business School, says getting into agribusiness as a group has immense benefits compared to working individually.
“As a group, the youth are able to boost the volume of their production increasing their economies of scale, they can better negotiate for a good market for their produce, create a consistence in their production and supply to their markets.”
He noted horticulture is probably the best option to start with, since the group matures faster.