Fruit Trees: A solution to Climate Change

Kenya has about 6% tree cover and only 20% of all the land is arable. Even so, a third of the population directly depends on rain-fed agriculture with the bulk of them being small scale farmers. Erratic rainfall patterns brought about by climate change cripples the food production system by either drying out the farms or flooding them. Tree planting is therefore of great importance. In one county, Murang’a, driven by efforts of local farmers, tree planting has evolved to Fruit Tree Farming.

Murang’a County in central Kenya was a constant climate change impact point. Erratic rains caused landslides on the baring slopes due to deforestation. Lives, arable land and livestock were lost. Samuel Ndung’u, a young boy at the time watched as his father filled his land with fruit tree nurseries and the trees were later planted in their farm and the neighbouring farms. The trees flourished producing fruits in surplus even becoming a source of livelihood for their family.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Samuel is now a fruit tree farmer with a nursery that has over 200,000 fruit trees. He directly employs 7 people and has sold over 600,000 fruit trees since 2010. The community around him in Murang’a has joined in the practice a multiplier effect can be noted with livelihoods, tree cover, food supply and soil and water conservation flourishing. Murang’a County is now a climate success story that demonstrates a replicable solution in fruit tree farming to communities facing similar climate change challenges.

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Getting Water for Your Farm

When you start thinking of going into farming, the first thing that comes to mind is water availability. It is almost impossible to succeed in farming without a reliable water supply in your farm, and that is the challenge many young farmers are facing today. Water unavailability is a global crisis, a situation that calls for innovative and sustainable means of acquiring water for agriculture as well as other domestic uses. Other than the common water sources we know which include rivers, lakes, streams and dams, which are only beneficial to those in close proximity to them, there are other ways a farmer can obtain water for farming;

a) Rain Water Harvesting

For a long time this has been a very effective source of water for subsistence farmers. It is the collection and storing rainwater from rooftops using simple vessels (gutters) fixed at the edge of the roof. All you need to have is a roof constructed with galvanized corrugated iron, aluminum, tiles or slates. Thatched roofs laid properly can also serve the same purpose, only that the water collected will not be as clean. Also roofs with coatings or paint are not highly recommended as you may never know what chemicals will be contaminating your water. Rain water from the rooftop is collected in the gutters, which can be made of iron or aluminum, then diverted into storage containers or tanks. An ideal 5000L plastic tank in Kenya goes for around Kshs.30,000. This can comfortably sustain drip irrigation for your farm. It is also possible to construct an underground storage tank, which will definitely be larger. Rain water is preferred for sensitive uses such as in a greenhouse. You can also maintain the quality of the water collected by regularly cleaning your gutters as dust, leaves and other dirt collects with time.

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b) Water Pan

This is a simple, cheap and low maintenance method of water collection that any farmer can manage. It is a small pond dug on the lower part of a slope to collect surface runoff during heavy rains. In cases where the ground is leveled, terracing can assist with the water collection. The pond is then lined with a polythene just in case the soil is a lot more permeable. The size of the water pan will vary depending on your needs together with the site conditions. A normal size will be about 400M³ which is enough for irrigation and livestock. You might need a water pump for irrigation purposes if you have a bigger farm.

Water Pan

Water Pan

c) Water Wells & Borehole Drilling

Despite it being an expensive means of water extraction, it is more effective in the long run and it’s commonly used by many farmers to obtain water for irrigation. Water wells can only be drilled in areas where the water table is high. A borehole is a water well that has been fully installed with casing and a well screen, and it can be drilled several meters deeper than water well.

d) Sand Dams

Sand Dam

Sand Dam

A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built across a seasonal sandy river. It is another simple and low cost method of water conservation that retains rainwater and at the same time recharging groundwater. A single sand dam can provide enough water for farming and domestic use for an entire village, lasting several months after the rains have fallen. Constructing a sand dam requires communal efforts. If you have a seasonal stream in your village, think about mobilizing other young farmers like you to construct one. I guarantee you it will be worth your while.

By Victoria Chengo

Lessons learned in greenhouse tomato farming

Many greenhouse farmers will agree that tomatoes give the best returns because of the market availability, both local and international, and the duration in which one can harvest. Underneath the potentially good returns, the work involved in tomato farming in a greenhouse is not easy. A couple of lessons learnt from my first season of this type of farming are explained below. 

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  • Proper preparation beats mitigation. Water availability, soil tests and dependable agronomist and farm manager are essentials in order to optimize the returns in tomato farming. My farm is in South Nyanza and Western region of Kenya is prone to bacterial wilt, hence soil tests before planting tomatoes is vital to avoid the disease that to date has no cure.
  • Indigenous knowledge. Many farmers prefer to follow the books to the latter while doing farming but the truth is some knowledge is not applicable in some areas and experiences of farming. It is important to learn from people practicing the same kind of farming in your area.
  • Security is key. Protecting your hard work is a no-brainer just like in any other type of business. Not everyone may be happy with the progress you are making. Varying from petty thieves to saboteurs, you should protect your farm, perhaps even employing a security guard because it is like any other business. 
  • Priority should be the local market. During harvesting, many farmers tend to look for the best market price to sell their produce. As a local, small to medium scale farmer, you should not overlook the local market regardless of the market price. More often than not, the good market price is far from your location hence the margin is always negated by the transport costs and other risks. It is also good to create a rapport with the local market players to have a foothold for future farming ventures. CIMG3794
  • Timing. As a greenhouse farmer, you have an advantage of growing tomatoes anytime of the year as opposed to the open field farmers who have to adhere to the seasons. It is prudent therefore to time your planting so that by the time you harvest, there will be shortage thus good market prices. This is a good way to optimize returns of your production.

Follow @FarmingKenya on Twitter for helpful farming advice. 

Affordable farming ventures for young starters

Staying true to our mission of getting more young people interested in farming, this post will look at some types of farming that a cash-strapped young person can undertake and build a career out of. These farming ventures will consider both urban and rural youth because, like in other developing countries, Kenya still grapples with rural-urban migration in search of employment opportunities.

  • Poultry farming. This type of farming is considered the most successful in Kenya in terms of return and it’s true. Kenya is known for a very high consumption of chicken meat and farmers can barely meet the demand. This is a good place to begin even with a paltry 30,000 Kes. You can get an affordable poultry eggs incubator at 15,000 Kes and use the rest to set up. You can then sell chicks to poultry farmers. With one successful batch you can break even. An incubator will not take much space hence can also be done in urban areas. 
  • Affordable greenhouse farming. Many people assume that greenhouse farming requires a lot of capital, this is not the case. One can get a greenhouse for as low as 50,000 Kes and decide to do tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber or strawberries. You can also build one using locally available materials and the results wont be far away from the expensive ones. This is best done in rural areas where materials can be acquired cheaply.
  • Livestock farming. Many urban youth consider livestock farming very labour-intensive, and for good reason. You need substantial land to keep cattle, goats and sheep thus suitable for rural youth. The secret for earning a lot of money from this is traveling to Northern Kenya and buying goats and sheep for prices as low as 1000 Kes and transporting them to wherever you are. Imagine how much a full sheep would be in Nairobi or Kisumu! All you need is transport permit for livestock.DSC_8289
  • Leasing land. For young people in urban areas who would like to do farming and are curtailed by land issues, good news, leasing land in places like Olkalou, Narok and Nanyuki is very possible and affordable. For an acre you can pay as low as 3,000 Kes for the whole year, which, for some crops like potatoes, will be three seasons. Leasing land for maize in Kitale, Wheat in Narok and Sugarcane is South Nyanza is all doable and profitable. 
  • Urban farming. This type of farming is becoming more popular because it can be done in very little space, as little as 2ft by 2ft. Here, vegetables are planted in bags or tins that are mounted vertically on poles. A 2 meter pole can give you 16 plants therefore having 10 or more poles will provide you with a profitable garden right in your backyard. Remember to grow popular vegetables in your area, for example, Nairobi has developed a very healthy penchant for indigenous veggies (Mchicha, kunde, managu).

There are many affordable types of farming and agribusinesses that I have left out and I will be happy to answer any questions you might have. Kindly get in touch. 

Remember, if you had a meal today, thank a farmer.

How a young person can raise money for agribusiness

The biggest hurdle for those interested in starting an agribusiness is that of capital, as mentioned in my previous post. Just like any other business with handsome returns, farming will need – above passion and information – capital. Fundamental resources here include land/space and money. Young people may not be well equipped to handle this challenge thus prompting them to give up on their farming dreams even before beginning. Below are ways a young person can put together capital to go into farming.

i) Savings. The urban lifestyle in Kenya has convinced the youth that they don’t have money, save for that 4,000 Shillings they spend every weekend to party. For youth seriously interested in farming, saving this money for 3 weeks will be enough capital to set up some small-scale types of farming. Students in colleges and universities receive allowances from their parents, those who receive HELB loans are even better placed to invest this money and reap the benefits when they graduate. Sadly many students prefer to buy the latest gadgets and indulge in weekly (or daily) drinking escapades.

ii) Youth Fund/Uwezo Fund. The government recently launched specials financial programmes aimed at empowering young people interested in entrepreneurship. Farming currently ranks very high among the most rewarding enterprises in Kenya, Africa and beyond because it solves a myriad of problems (food security, unemployment, poverty). Young farming enthusiasts therefore have a real opportunity to apply for these funds in order to do serious agribusiness. Visit these links to learn more: Youth Fund and Uwezo Fund.
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iii) Loans/Agricultural Financing. The are several financial loans by banks and corporations specially tailored to meet farmers’ needs. Entities like Agricultural Finance Corporation, Equity’s Kilimo Biashara Loans and Chase Bank’s Rafiki DTM Loans provide very reasonable rates that would benefit farmers. Exploring these options behooves young farmers who, for instance, from a single season of greenhouse tomato farming, could pay off the loans and still make some profit. The secret here is to research and determine the bank/corporation that provides the best service. 

iv) Crowd Funding. This phenomenon, mostly done via the internet, is changing lives all over the world. It involves pitching your business idea on the crowd funding platforms/websites and then people contribute depending on how appealing your idea is. Some of these websites are Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe. To date, Kickstarter has funded over 135,000 projects worth over $1 billion. In Kenya, M-Changa offers this service and young people falling short of capital to go into farming can take advantage to raise money.

v) Money-making. A proper agribusiness venture requires substantial amount of capital. This can be discouraging to that young student who has a “meager” 10,000 Shillings. There are businesses with high returns that can grow this 10,000 to 50,000  in a span of 3 months. For instance, the business of cereals (maize, beans, rice) in Kenya is highly rewarding but not really understood by young people. During the harvest season, the price of a 90kg bag of maize can be as low as 1,500  and three months later when shortage bites, the price can go up to 5000. The old adage “Money begets money” becomes your mantra here.

The next post will cover different types of farming and how much a young person would need to invest in them.

5 things a young person should consider before going into farming

Lucrativeness of farming has been sold to the masses in Kenya, so much that everyone, young and old, rich and poor, men and women are trooping towards it, in many cases blindly. This interest in farming is a good sign, but the concerns of what really drives young people towards farming remain. Below are 5 things to put in place before going all out on agriculture in order to reap the much mentioned success in the sector.

1. Information/knowledge. How much knowledge about farming do you possess. Like any other profession, farming requires expertise, in fact it requires a great deal of expertise because of the dynamic aspects of agriculture. Information such as weather patterns, what crop to farm and the market, are very important. If you are truly keen on going into farming, roll up your sleeves and learn first.

2. Passion. How much do you want to farm? What motivates you to become a farmer. Many young people are lured into the trade with the glossy stories of success in the media without acknowledging the potentially disastrous risks involved. If you are not so much into it, the returns wont be too much into you either.

3. Capital. Young people interested in farming encounter their first hurdle in terms of capital. This is normal. Remedy for this can be found in the many agricultural support loans being given out by organizations, banks and even the government. The most important thing is the information on how to access these financial services. I will provide information on these loans and grants for farmers in my next post.

4. Total Commitment. There is a new crop of young farmers who engage in farming “via proxy” or mobile phone farming if you will. This does not work at all. Even if you have a good farm manager, there a number of things that will go wrong without your actual presence. For greater rewards in farming, you need to be on site. As a result, urban farming is taking root in the cities.

5. Persistence. You are more likely to be disappointed by your farm in the beginning. This is called the learning period and giving up should not be an option. Wrap the failures under the folder of experience and use it to become better. It is important to expect misfortunes and be ready for them. Just remember to keep on.

With these points considered, you can now decide to roll out your dream.

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Young farmers preparing a farm for vegetables

Farming and Young People

Kenya is presently seeing a growing number of young people going into farming mostly because of lack of employment in the formal sector. Many however fail to make it due to inadequate knowledge and experience. Farming, like any other profession requires qualifications and expertise. Granted, not many people study agriculture in schools, practical farming can be learnt and experience gained in order to equip young people with vital knowledge to succeed in this venture and spur job creation in Kenya. This is the objective of my farm and blog.

I have established a farm that will act as a model and learning field for all the young people who would like to venture into farming as a source of income. The farm specializes in horticulture, dairy and fish farming. In future I intend to have a comprehensive orchard in order to increase the knowledge on fruit farming in the country. I invite all interested youth to embark with me on this journey as we fight unemployment, poverty and food insecurity in Africa.

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