Universal Farm in Utange, Mombasa County, is very popular for its fresh amaranth and black nightshade.
When the Seeds of Gold team visited the five-acre farm owned by Cosmas Munene, 42, and his mother Tabitha Muthoni Kamau, we found them busy at work.
Wearing a striped T-shirt, brown trousers and black boots, Munene was keenly checking on the sprouted amaranth and black nightshade plants on the raised nursery covered by black shade nets. As the farm manager, he is tasked with ensuring everything runs smoothly.
Munene, who developed interest in farming at the age of 12 on his mother’s coffee plantation in Kirinyaga, graduated in 2002 with a diploma in Agronomy from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
He also has a diploma in Business Administration from Kirinyaga Technical University (1999).
After a stint at the Coast Farmcare Agrovet and as an agronomist at Swaleh Nguru Farm in Mombasa from 2002 to 2014, he decided to embark on private business.
He quit employment in 2014 and formed a consultancy company specialising in farm management, installation of drip irrigation kits and greenhouses. He also focused on his farming venture.
“Two years earlier, in 2012, I had joined forces with my mother, who was already into amaranth growing,” he said.
Using a well and an electric submassive pump, Munene waters the crops using drip irrigation.
“To grow amaranth, I first start by setting up a nursery on a raised seed bed using locally available materials or fabricated iron bars to create the rectangular shaped shade net,” Munene said.
The seeds are spread in a straight line and irrigated for three weeks after they germinate. The seedlings are then transplanted into the irrigation basins.
Manure is applied to enhance growth and for top dressing, fertilisers are used. “The crop is ready for harvesting three weeks after planting,” Munene said.
According to Munene, a good amaranth crop planted on a one-acre plot fetches between Sh20,000 and Sh35,000 a week at farm gate prices.
A two-kilogramme bunch sells at Sh35 and harvesting lasts from eight to 10 months for a well-maintained crop.
PREVENT PESTS AND DISEASES
Universal Farm has three permanent workers and three casuals who earn Sh10,000 monthly.
For the black nightshade, seeds are broadcast on a nursery and irrigation is done every evening for four weeks.
The seeds germinate after six days and after the fourth week, they are transplanted in two-by-four-metre basins that accommodate 60 plants spaced at three-by-three-inch intervals.
Manure is then applied before the seedlings are planted into holes. You then irrigate the plants and spray to prevent pests and diseases.
Later, folia feed is introduced after 21 days to enhance leaf growth since it is rich in nitrogen. Harvesting starts four weeks after the planting date.
Munene said an eighth-acre plot earns one Sh8,000 a week. A two-kilo bunch sells at Sh60.
He says with proper management, harvesting can continue for up to five months.
“It is not like amaranth, which grows all year round; it only does well during rainy seasons because it needs a lot of water,” Munene says.
Other crops grown at Universal Farm include green maize on one acre. The plot produces about 3,000 pieces that sell at Sh10 apiece.
Munene also keeps 38 goats and 190 chickens that supply manure for the crops.
Sometimes the goats are sold at Sh6,000 each, while chickens cost Sh800 per bird.
To boost the farm’s revenue, a variety of seedlings are grown on trays at the nursery and sold to farmers.
A tomato seedling costs Sh10, spinach (Sh3), Kale (Sh3), capsicum (Sh8), pawpaw (Sh70), pepper cayenne (Sh8), beetroots (Sh6) and egg plants Sh6.
Amaranth and blacknight shade seedlings are sold for Sh1 and Sh2 respectively.
Regarding challenges, Munene said the farm is prone to floods and crops are sometimes damaged during heavy rains.
He said to overcome the challenges, trenches are made to direct water out of the farm and crops are planted on ridges.
Munene added that many pests are found in the area and constant surveillance is important to manage diseases.
“We have a spray programme, for example for aphids and leaf miner. We normally use Ampligo from Syngenta and Progve from Amiran for aphids and Ortiva from Syngenta for the leaf spots," Munene said.
Finyange Pole, an agricultural research scientist at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) in Matuga, says depending on the market, farmers can either produce seedlings for sale or grow the crop to maturity. However, they should buy certified seeds.
“Seedlings take less time to produce and with a high rate of germination, farmers can get good earnings,” he added. “The best way is to stagger the seedlings; sow them after every few weeks so that they are spread out in terms of growth.”
At a glance
Increasing revenue streams
- To boost revenue, Cosmas Munene and his mother Tabitha Muthoni Kamau (below) grow a variety of seedlings, which they sell to farmers.
- A tomato seedling costs Sh10, spinach (Sh3), kale (Sh3), capsicum (Sh8), pawpaw (Sh70), pepper cayenne (Sh8), beetroot (Sh6) and egg plant (Sh6).
- Amaranth and blacknight shade seedlings are sold for Sh1 and Sh2 respectively. They also keep cows, goats and chickens.