Stephen Muriuki’s passion for agriculture made him resign as an accountant with Mwalimu National Sacco in 2010 and venture full-time into farming in Marurui village in Meru County.
The 54-year-old practises mixed farming on his six acre Fortune Farm rearing dairy cows, geese, rabbits, ‘kienyeji’ chicken and grows pigeon peas, potatoes and tomatoes — worlds apart from the bookkeeping he was so used to. Mr Muriuki says that from early on, he decided to adopt a hands-on approach to managing his farm since he had heard tales of the pitfalls that come with delegating duties.
“However, assessing the availability of markets for your products before starting out is equally important. Dairy practice and traditional foods are a lucrative business in Meru County,” he told Enterprise.
The father of three believes there is no venture that can give as good returns as agriculture.
Soon after leaving formal employment, he bought two cows, an Ayrshire and a Guernsey, using his personal savings. He says these breeds are known for high productivity.
Today, his herd of superior breeds is six cows strong, all producing approximately 52 litres of milk every day. With a litre of milk retailing at Sh35, he makes about Sh54,000 every month.
“I also rear Friesians. They are good milk producers. I learned the art of dairy farming by keeping in touch with those who have succeeded in this nature of business,” said Mr Muriuki.
Another top earner for the farmer is pigeon peas, a crop he also says he settled on “after extensive research”.
From an acre, he earns Sh1.2 million from three harvest seasons in a year. His farm also produces 50 bags of potatoes each in two harvest seasons with a 70 kilogramme bag retailing for between Sh1,800 and Sh2,000.
“I realised I needed to have a destined market for the produce by the time you harvest, lest you run into huge losses. The market dictates whether you continue, grow and expand or pull a stop in your venture,” he says.
Marurui is a semi-arid zone in Meru and to beat the water shortage, the farmer used the proceeds from his farms to put a Sh250,000 artificial dam with a holding capacity of 300,000 litres on his farm. This ensures he has a constant supply of water.
He also invested Sh150,000 in building a 30-foot by 100-feet greenhouse to grow tomatoes, capsicums and courgettes which require a controlled environment away from the area’s sweltering sun.
“I am a content businessman. I have employed two permanent employees and I have educated all my children mainly through farming and done other investments.
“I am ready to remain a farmer for the rest of my life,” he proudly states.
The farmer’s biggest challenges are pests and diseases which he overcomes through the help of agronomists. The expensive feeds are also a major concern for him and other farmers in the county, he said.
Mr Muriuki’s advice to graduates is to ditch the traditional misconception that farming is just a dirty and unprofitable venture.