What you need to know:
- I farm on two acres of the five that I have and this is now my full-time job.
- Initially, farming was my side hustle and I had planted broccoli and spinach weeks before the outbreak of Covid-19.
- I sold only 10 kilos at between Sh120 and Sh130. The produce shrivelled in the store and I dumped it all. The venture was a total loss.
- On the other hand, a head of broccoli retails at between Sh180 and 220.
Monica Mwangi also grows spinach, onions, beetroot as well cucumbers in Ragati, Nyeri County, on five acres.
After Covid-19 hit the real estate sector, her main business, she turned to farming. Sammy Waweru spoke to her and an agricultural expert on the farming venture that is picking up
You look a happy farmer….
Monica: Well, as they say, looks can be deceiving but for now, I can say I am happy because my crops have done well.
I farm on two acres of the five that I have and this is now my full-time job. Initially, farming was my side hustle and I had planted broccoli and spinach weeks before the outbreak of Covid-19. I expanded the venture soon after.
How was the experience before getting into full-time farming?
Monica: I was a telephone farmer at the time, growing garlic but I burnt my fingers. I had the crop on one acre, expecting to make some Sh800,000.
The expenses included seeds worth Sh40,000 and I had invested heavily in drip irrigation system and related infrastructure like water tank, a move that cost me Sh450, 000.
I harvested good yields, about 4, 000 kilos (four tonnes). However, finding a market for the produce was a major challenge, as I discovered that most people preferred garlic from outside the country.
I sold only 10 kilos at between Sh120 and Sh130. The produce shrivelled in the store and I dumped it all. The venture was a total loss.
How did you settle on the five crops?
Monica: I did market research and found out that broccoli, which I now grow on a quarter-acre, was in high demand in restaurants and hotels in Nanyuki, Laikipia and Meru.
I then engaged an agricultural expert who helped from seedlings propagation to transplanting to ensure everything goes right.
Broccoli is a vegetable and is grown by few people and matures in about two-and-a-half months, which makes it a viable crop.
This crop certainly matured when restaurants were closed…
Monica: Yes it did, and that brought another hurdle. I had banked on restaurants, hotels and lodges, but then Covid-19 came and they closed.
This saw me stuck with 2,400 heads of broccoli, which ran the risk of going to waste.
With broccoli, once they mature, they should be harvested immediately because if they overgrow, you can’t sell them.
A friend who owns a restaurant and was one of my customers introduced me to a young farmer, Gathurima Mwongera, who assisted me sell the produce on social media sites at Sh80 per kilo.
On the other hand, a head of broccoli retails at between Sh180 and 220.
I also aggressively marketed the produce to grocery stores and directly to customers, but luckily, some hotels and restaurants are now back.
Are the other crops profitable?
Monica: Spinach sits on one acre, red bulb onions three quarters and cucumber and beetroot on a quarter-acre.
Of all the crops I farm, however, broccoli and spinach have done well despite the tough environment brought about by Covid-19. Every 10 days, I harvest 400 - 600 kilos of spinach, each going for Sh10.
I am also harvesting cucumbers and beetroot, with the former selling at Sh80 and the latter Sh100. Onions will be ready for harvesting end of August.
What is that secret that you have learnt from your business so far?
Monica: Well, besides having a steady market, have a reliable source of water. I source water from River Ragati for irrigation.
I also have reliable workers. I have employed one person on permanent terms and get five casuals when need arises. Again, don’t rush into agribusiness.
What pests and diseases affect broccoli?
Caroline Njeri, Royal Seeds Company: One should watch out for aphids, which pierce holes on broccoli heads and leaves.
The crop is also affected by blight. An acre hosts over 12,500 broccoli plants and under proper farm management, one can get six to nine tonnes.