Young graduate making a fortune from tomato farming
By Zablon Oyugi
Upon her graduation, Anne Muriithi was among the few who got the chance to work with Egerton University’s Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development in March 2014 under contract.
However, the research contract which she earned Sh1,500 a day in two months would soon end in April same year rendering her jobless.
With an economics background, she decided to go back home in Mwea, Embu County with her stipends after an idea of delving into farming struck her mind.
‘’I grew up from an area and a family where farming has been the main source of livelihood and to me, this was the best opportunity to bring the best out of it,’’ said the 2013 Agriculture Economics graduate from Moi University.
She had to strategize for the better part of 2014 and so in January 2015 she spent Sh25,000 to lease about five acres of land in Mwea of which one acre she grew Sukari F1 watermelon and three acres under bulb onions.
With little knowledge in practical commercial farming Muriithi had to do some research, consulted experienced farmers and agronomists she knew.
After the season she would harvest 8 tonnes of onions which she sold to traders at Sh30 a kilo being farm-gate prices earning Sh240,000 while watermelons raked her Sh150,000 translating to Sh390,000 her total gross income that season.
‘’Though this was less according to the agronomists’ projections, I got encouraged that it was doable and at least I had gained some experience,’’ said Muriithi.
In her subsequent season in 2016 she decided to move from ordinary onion seeds to hybrid varieties planting Red Tropicana F1 and Red creole only on two acres.
These gave her 19 tonnes which was more than double what she had realised in the previous season. Again, after she sold all the produce to traders at her farm, she was able to earn Sh0.5m. She left the farm and leased another one acre in the same location in 2017 June to grow French beans which in less than three months she would harvest 1.5 tonnes earning her Sh75,000 after selling at Sh50 per kilo to an exporting firm.
Now, just like any other business, farming is a risky one too given the diseases, weather, and market downturns that many growers face especially the new entrants such as Muriithi.
As ambitious as she had become from the successive harvests, the 29 years old’s desire to clinch the export market moved her to go a notch higher and invested over Sh300,000 to grow snow peas and sugar snaps on a 3 acres piece of land away from home in Tharagua in Laikipia County.
Unfortunately, there was need for constant water for irrigation which though took much of her expenses, she tried to manage. Her frequent visits from Nairobi where she had moved to stay to Laikipia also added heavily on her list of expenses.
Eventually, just before the harvest time, frost struck crops leading to her to lose everything. this led to her to abandon the farm and lease the remainder of the season to another farmer.
After the blow Muriithi was not shy to ask for help from her parents who gladly gave her some financial boost besides allowing her to use 1.5 acres part of their land to produce French beans again.
And though this did no perform well too due to market challenges, the little she got out of it she had to look for a land in order leave that of her parents.
‘’Because I did not want to squeeze my parents within their small piece of land, I went out with the little I had to lease an acre in the neighbourhood to continue in French beans and try out tomatoes,’’ said Muriithi.
Since then, she has been specialising in the two crops which she says have become her top earners.
For instance, last year September she harvested 120 boxes from a 2- acre piece of plot in Mwea selling at Sh3,500-4000 per box earning between Sh420,000 and Sh480,000 gross income.
Her advice to the young people like her is not to fear trying their hands in agribusiness and the best way to go about it especially when one do not have enough experience and knowledge in farming is to ask the right people such as well-known experts and experienced farmers for the best insights.