Nyandarua is turning into a bamboo county. Hundreds of acres previously under Irish potatoes are flourishing with well-tended bamboo plantations at different stages of growth.
Farmers are motivated by a market contract with a Sh400,000 guaranteed annual minimum return from an acre of land, at minimal labour and production costs.
This is in comparison with an annual average of Sh100,000 from the same piece of land planted with potatoes, which require intensive labour and high input charges.
Most farmers produce an average 50 bags of potatoes from an acre of land, selling at an average of Sh1,000 per 100kg bag when the market is good, with two seasons in a year.
But currently, a 150kg bag of potatoes is fetching Sh600 at farm gate prices. “A time is coming when exploitative potato buyers will beg us to plant the crop, but there will be no land for that,” says Nyambura Ndugire, 70.
We found Ms Ndugire with a battalion of casuals workers at Warurungana Village in Njambini, Kinangop constituency, reclaiming a land she abandoned five years ago after years of toil with little to show for it.
At Chamuka Village, Mirangine sub-county, Ms Magaret Mumbi is harvesting Irish potato under the cover of the heavily vegetative bamboo. She is at Farm B, where the youngest of the bamboo trees, planted last October, can allow intercropping. Ms Mumbi has two acres under bamboo in Farm A, planted in 2015.
She learned about bamboo farming from her employer, Mr Muema Kariithi, of Ngorika Village. Ms Nyambura narrates the frustrations she encountered since 1980, forcing her to quit farming.
“Potatoes were rewarding until brokers introduced the 150kg bag and conspired to dictate the price. I planted six acres of eucalyptus trees and left to do business in Ol Kalou town,” she said.
Revitalised by the county government’s promise to have a bamboo factory, the grandma is determined to have her 10-acre piece of land under bamboo.
Mr Joseph Kimwaki from Kanguo village in Ol Joro Orok shared similar frustrations. A mason, he left Nairobi where he had worked in the construction industry for years to come back home and do farming. “I planted maize and potatoes on my five-acre farm but it was not lucrative,” he said. It was a big relief when he learned about bamboo farming in March this year. By June, he had planted three acres with bamboo. He wants to put his entire farm under bamboo in what he calls a grand retirement plan.
Mr Muema, the bamboo pioneer farmer at Ngorika, says: “The plant’s production cost is minimal since it does not require chemicals. The only production cost involved is land preparation and weeding.” A retired teacher and businessman, he has 10 acres under bamboo at Ngorika and is planting 11 more acres at Subukia in Nakuru County.
Others who have switched to bamboo farming include Mr John Ndegwa, also a businessman at Ngorika. He has placed 15 acres under bamboo and is scouting for land to buy and plant more trees.
Governor Francis Kimemia is optimistic that a bamboo processing factory will be operational by next year, adding that his government has partnered with Tower Sacco to give loans to farmers diversifying to bamboo production.