Small Enterprise

How Mathioya vegetable farmer cashes in on tea bonus

Horticultural farmer Justice Muraya. photo | waikwa maina | nmg
Horticultural farmer Justice Muraya. photo | waikwa maina | nmg 

Like other farmers in tea growing areas, Justice Muraya is patiently waiting for the tea bonus payments to be released in a few days.

But the farmer, who does not own a single tea bush, expects to earn part of the payments from tea growers.

Mr Muraya, who grew up in Kiamuturi, Mathioya, was bored of the tea picking monotony at a very tender age. As a boy, his dream was to complete school and earn a ticket out of the village, away from the tea pruning and picking routines.

And he sure left the village, briefly traversing the country in search of greener pastures, but as fate would have it, he returned home early last year.

His family allocated him a piece of land with tea bushes but he decided to uproot them to venture into horticultural farming, which he had not practised before.

“I grew up in a tea-growing zone, like other farmers, my family had not cultivated any other crop. I got to learn that horticulture was better and lucrative than tea growing.

“I decided to give it a try using the limited agricultural skills I had learned at Iyego Secondary School in Kangema,” says Mr Muraya.

The young farmer was ridiculed and condemned for uprooting the tea bushes for vegetable farming, but he had made up his mind.

That was in February last year and by April the same year, those who had criticised him started flocking to his small piece of farm to buy vegetables.

“It had struck me that traders here get supplies from Kiria-ini and Gakindu markets. I was, therefore, assured of market for my vegetables. My challenge was to produce better quality to attract the target customers,” he said.

By August last year, he increased the acreage under vegetables to meet the growing demand. This meant growing his vegetables on any available space including vertical and green wall gardens. 

Mr Muraya earns at least Sh500 in cash sales and between Sh500 to Sh800 selling on credit daily.

It is what he sold on credit that Mr Muraya expects to be paid when tea growers receive their annual bonuses. He discovered the strategy when farmers paid him more than Sh80,000 in debt using their bonus pay last year.

“Customers flood here because I practise organic farming, I use no chemicals and my vegetables are always fresh,” he says.

He earns extra coins training other farmers at Sh500 gate entrance fee per farmer. Mr Muraya has a long list of “loaned” farmers and says recording keeping is very important to avoid conflicts with customers.

“The farmers I train help market my vegetables. I get hotel orders but am unable to supply the demand, I plan to buy a one-acre piece of land with the bonus payments,” he adds.

Apart from traditional vegetables that include kale, spinach, and cabbages, wild vegetables such as amaranth and vine spinach are also part of the farm.

“My biggest secret is using raised bed and practicing organic farming. I moved to Mombasa in 2008 after sitting my form four examinations where I invested in juice blending, but I gave up due to high costs of production,” said the young farmer. In 2012, he trained as a beautician and moved back home in 2014 to operate his salon and do the farming.

Agronomist Peter Chege says raised beds to improve the structure of the soil and enables easy penetration of the roots to nutritious soils.

The young farmer intercrops the vegetables as a way of pests and harmful insects control, as well as encouraging some select weeds in strategic areas for same reason. 

Mr Chege says different types of pests and insects are attracted to certain crop scent and repelled by others, thus, encourages farmers to practice same to minimize costs of production.