A narrow dusty path leads to James Kasemo’s farm in Kilifi County. The farm is some 3km from Mariakani shopping centre. The 24-year-old, who is an actuary having studied at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology until 2014, farms tomatoes under the trade name Casemo Foods.
“I started farming in 2014 while in my last year in campus on my parent’s one acre as I planned for my life after college. I invested over Sh100,000 from money I had made while teaching at a college in Mombasa into 100 Kenbro birds.”
He, however, found poultry keeping demanding, and sold the chickens to switch to plants.
“I began with 300 passion fruit trees, 800 tomato plants (Kilele F1 variety) and 300 papaya trees. Most of my fruits, however, died due to water-logging,” says Kasemo, noting he lost an investment of about Sh50,000.
Since the tomatoes performed well, Kasemo fully switched to the crop.
It has been two years since then and Kasemo, who was joined in 2015 by two of his friends Peter Tsuma (22) and Harrison Kaingu (20) in the project, is now wiser, thanks to experience and knowledge he picked from Christian Impact Mission in Yatta.
He plants the tomatoes in 30cm cubic holes filled with manure, dry grass and 10g of lime on quarter acre blocks on rotation basis.
“While lime helps in acidity regulation for maximum production, manure and dry grass boosts fertility and improves soil water-retention capacity,” says Kasemo, who is currently pursuing an MBA in Global Sustainability and Social Entrepreneurship at Tangaza college, paying his fees from the crop.
MITIGATION AND RISK SUSTAINABILITY
Using the method, the crops then utilise less water and are not prone to diseases and the holes can be used to plant other crops, including melons.
He grows the plants under irrigation, getting water from water pans on the farm.
“I grow my tomatoes in the open field because this lowers the cost of production. Besides, the greenhouse or shed net has a high initial investment.”
According to Kasemo, 1,000 tomato plants on an eighth acre can generate gross income of up to Sh200,000 for a 10-week period.
“We now employ young men to do the sales for us by the Mombasa-Nairobi highway to avoid brokers. On the first day of this trial we made sales of Sh10,000 between 2pm and 6pm,” says Kasemo.
He adds he has stuck with farming to show that it can be done in the dry Kilifi region and to tell the youth that it is beneficial, despite one having a different career.
“My actuarial science course has taught me to do risk mitigation and sustainability measures before I start a venture. I am applying this knowledge in agribusiness.”
Celina Mtuweta, an agricultural extension officer with the Ministry of Agriculture, advises farmers to plant crops such as tomatoes under irrigation in the region or grow green grams that that is drought-resistant, but not maize.
Kasemo says he plans to transform his farm into a resource centre, where farmers can learn sustainable agricultural practices to combat climate change, improve food security and create jobs.
“In July, I participated in The Green Enterprise Challenge (Kilifi Edition) where I presented a business idea of an organic mango processing plant to address the issue of post-harvest losses,” says Kasemo, who also holds a certificate in food processing from Kenya Industrial Training Institute.
Dr Fred Mugambi, the deputy commissioner Kenya School of Revenue Administration, Academic and Student Affairs, notes young farmers should go through training in basic book-keeping so that they are aware when they are breaking even.
“Young farmers should be innovative. They can grow flowers, rear chameleons, snails, silk worms and rabbits where they could make good money,” says the former director Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Mombasa campus.
“There is also need to consolidate small pieces of land and have young farmers collaborate in their farming activities,” he adds.