Tukalime Ventures: Turning virgin arid lands into profitable crop farms


A wide view of Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei on February 13, 2024 at Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei. Inset: Kevin Kamau, the founder of Tukalime Venture. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

About 16 kilometres off the busy Mombasa Highway at Mtito Andei, is a 200-acre farm that borders the Tsavo East National Park. The farm is currently under preparation for large-scale castor farming.

In this wild vastness, there are only two farms of such a scale. The other one is a flower farm. Human settlement here is sparse, the roads are narrow, and the temperatures go upwards of 30 degrees Celsius on a daily basis.

The land is virgin and as such, the developers, Tukalime Ventures have hired five men to operate two-wheel dozers to help in clearing the land in readiness for planting in March this year. It will take the workers about a week and a half to finish the job.

Thereafter, about 200 casual workers will join the workforce for planting, growing, and harvesting. From this piece of land, Tukalime Ventures is looking at harvesting more than 1,200 tonnes of castor.

Kevin Kamau, the founder of Tukalime Venture is behind the Mtito Andei project and others where he seeks to grow biofuels such as soy, rapeseed, jatropha, mustard, flax, sunflower, and palm oil.

Mr Kamau came back to Kenya after a decade-long stay in the US. He says this was an eye-opener.

“I discovered that our parents were the main labour force in the agriculture sector, but they were growing old and abandoning agriculture or resigning to subsistence farming altogether. With rapid urbanisation, younger people paid little attention to agriculture," he says.


Tukalime Founder Kevin Kamau during an interview on February 13, 2024 at Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

He adds: "My friends in the US would tell me how they kept sending money home to invest in agriculture but the returns were not any good. I decided to set up a company that would offer A-Z agricultural solutions to individuals and organisations with disposable income and land.”

Mr Kamau says he started by providing consultancy services to the middle class, who wanted the technical know-how to benefit from agriculture.


Water purification area pictured on February 13, 2024 at Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

"To create wealth through agriculture, we convert arid land to arable and profitable land through various interventions like irrigation, and sustainable farming,” he says.

Having practised farming in Kinangop before, he had an understanding of agriculture as a viable business venture. The company first onboarded an agronomist to further cement their knowledge in agriculture.

“With a seed capital of Sh1 million raised through boot-strapping from family and friends, we set off with one agronomist, myself, and one vehicle that we used to travel to the farms with,” he says.

He says his job entails doing farm assessments where they carry out soil tests, risk and marketing analysis, formulate a business plan, come up with financial projections, and finally crop protocols.


Water Reservoir at Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei on February 13, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

“We start by visiting a client’s farm. Our agronomists carry out feasibility studies on all factors of production. We prefer farms above three acres as they enjoy economies of scale,” says Simon Mungai, Tukalime’s agronomist.

In 2019, they got into a joint venture with Tzanaka-Cooper Kenya Brand's parent company to expand their services countrywide.

“This investment effectively transformed us, we first started by targeting 10,000 farmers by setting up “mother farms” where these farmers would not only pull resources together to improve productivity but also learn from us and each other about the evolving nature of the sector, slowly shedding of old agricultural practices that had led them to losses before,” says Mr Kamau.


Solar panels used for generating power at Tukalime Farm in Mtito Andei on February 13, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

He adds: "We are in the process of farming castor on a 200-acre farm in Mtito Andei for an Italian company that intends to use the produce as biofuel. So far, we’ve spent about Sh3.5 million on land preparation. Since this area is largely arid, we are putting systems in place for irrigation.”

Their journey, however, has not just been all glorious. In 2022, they burnt their fingers.

“We got contracted to supply a local charity organisation with 30 to 40 percent of their grain demand. It was during this period that grain prices were so volatile. We went into serious losses due to these fluctuations. We licked our wounds, picked ourselves up and continued with our journey,” says Mr Kamau.

From managing two acres, Tukalime now manages slightly under 4,000 acres.

“We plan to manage 10,000 growing macadamia, castor, safflower, sesame and much more. We are venturing into neighbouring countries like Tanzania going as far as Mozambique and Zambia. We have a team of 13 people who oversee our day-to-day activities across Kenya. We estimate that the Mtito farm will directly employ 2,000 people on a casual basis,” he says.

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