Five years ago, agricultural officers told Waweru Gikunju that his coffee farm had a lot of acid and was not good for crops.
The 64-year-old Gikunju got worried about his dream of producing the best quality coffee.
“When the extension officers gave me the results, I got confused and even thought of uprooting all my coffee bushes then leave the land untilled for several years so that the soil can regain fertility,” he recalls.
After three days of thinking, he remembered having learnt a technology of making organic fertiliser and decided to try it. His decision has helped him to improve his farm and grow earnings.
He now grows earthworms for making organic fertiliser.
Mr Gikunju trained in vermiculture in 2006 at Jomo Kenyatta University and Technology (JKUAT). Even after training, he concentrated on coffee growing in Tetu, Nyeri.
After the soil test results, he decided to make organic fertiliser for own use and sell to fellow farmers.
He bought 7,000 earthworms from South Africa for a pilot and later added 4,000 after it proved rewarding.
A few people are using the technology, giving Mr Gikunju an edge. He told Business Daily he is unable to meet the demand for his fertiliser and now intends to expand the venture and go commercial with a million earthworms.
“If I can get more earthworms, I am sure I’ll be able to assist more farmers with the same problem that I had.”
The worms which are fed on rotten oranges and banana or potato peels release bacteria which contain potassium, iron and nitrogen.
To get these bacteria from the worms, he has constructed simple slanted wooden shelves covered with polythene paper. Soil is spread on top and worms put in it.
At the edge of the slanted shelves, he places a long wick that drains a solution containing bacteria from the earthworms, which he uses to make organic fertiliser.
Mr Gikunju plans to sell the solution to farmers at Sh700 a litre and later sell worms at Sh10 each.
He sells a 50kg fertiliser at Sh2,600 wholesale price but the same retails at Sh3,500, which rate he is asking traders to lower to support the low-income earners.
He warns: “Those retailers who refuse to lower the costs to a rate that is affordable to the farmers will stop receiving the organic fertiliser from me because they are only interested in making their own selfish gains other than assisting the farmers.”
Farmers from Laikipia, Nyandarua, Kirinyaga,Murang’a, Embu, Timau,Nairobi, Machakos, Makueni,and Nyeri are some of his customers.
Mr Gikunju could not reveal the formula he uses to make the fertiliser but is urging the Ministry of Agriculture to help farmers make own organic fertiliser.
Inorganic fertiliser imports take between Sh6 billion and Sh9 billion yearly, he says, adding that that type contains a lot of acid which affects the soil.
If farmers are enlightened to use organic fertiliser, the government would reduce import costs, he told Business Daily.
He has challenged farmers not to kill, but nurture, earthworms when they see them.
“Many farmers think that every worm in the garden is only there to harm their crops and they tend to kill even the earthworms which add value to the soil. Farmers should nurture them more and even buy more as they are important.”