Francis Wachira was employed as a fruit vendor at Nairobi’s Marikiti market where he worked for five years making a living from the Sh100 he earned every day.
It was a job he did passionately but without earning much, he realised he could be more successful if he broke out on his own to start a fruit and vegetable business.
However his dream for a while would remain just a dream for Mr Wachira lacked start up capital. He took to tending an unkempt playground in his Ofafa Jericho neighbourhood, ensuring the grass was cut and neat. After the first few months, Mr Wachira thought of using part of the field to plant vegetables.
“At first my intention was to use this land for my own benefit but with time I was approached by the Ministry of Agriculture who then offered to support me in teaching others on the importance of urban farming,” says Mr Wachira.
His small farm attracted the local community’s interest and they would come to harvest kale and spinach, which spurred Mr Wachira to diversify and offer more. He also advised them to start their own farms and begun offering support.
He would buy vegetable seeds, plant them in his nursery and supply seedlings to anyone in the community interested in farming.
That was 10 years ago. Mr Wachira, who is popularly known as the Rabbit King, now practices urban organic farming as well as animal husbandry. He grows all kinds of vegetables in the quarter acre piece of land, from traditional vegetables to carrots and beetroots, and keeps rabbits, guinea pigs, chicken, goats, geese and quail for sale.
Mr Wachira begun keeping rabbits in 2005 after a training session on entrepreneurship. At the time there was no market for the animals but soon farmers who wanted to try their hand at the venture begun visiting his farm for training.
“There was a time I supplied Tuskys Supermarkets with 50 pieces of rabbit meat per day due to the demand,” he says.
He has 14 goats he keeps for their milk, which he sells at Sh200 per litre. He has many clients who have embraced the idea of goat milk due to its nutritional benefits. He also keep 200 guinea pigs, another growing market, which he found out were a delicacy in Baringo, Kitui and parts of Central Kenya.
Mr Wachira is now known as an ambassador for urban farming, a title that has seen him feature his produce at local and international trade fairs. Mazingira Institute sponsored him for a visit to the US where he underwent training on the benefits of urban farming.
Apart from providing daily food to Mr Wachira and his family, the once deserted field is now a learning tool for many who are interested in urban farming. Mr Wachira receives five to 10 visitors every week who come for tips on how to sustain their crops in an urban setting.
“Small scale farming is growing and having a variety of vegetable and animals is essential to cut cost of buying food as well as for staying healthy,” he says, adding that organic foods are expensive but people can still grow them in their backyard.
He advocates for growing of vegetables instead of flowers, whether in an empty can, old pots or in a sack.