Mercy Munene finds a ripe business, healing in organic farming


Mercy Munene waters her vegetables at her home in Utawala on April 4, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

It all started when her doctor advised her to add lots of organic vegetables to her diet. Her condition had not improved after taking various supplements and medications. She was diagnosed with anaemia in 2008.

Her lifestyle had seen her develop the blood disorder in which the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin that carries oxygen.

"When I started working and juggling education at the same time, I never had time to eat, and that messed up my diet. I was eating fast foods, which of course was not nutritious. As time went by, I could feel dizzy most of the time until I went to the doctor who told me that my blood levels were low," says Mercy Munene, 37.

But even after she started eating greens, Mercy says the results were still the same.

"I bought a lot of them, but it didn't help much because I still had to go for more supplements," she says.

However, she realised that the vegetables she was buying from the market were not organic. This prompted her to consider growing her vegetables.

Organic food is also often fresher because it does not contain preservatives that prolong its shelf life and does not contain the chemical pesticides that lower the quality of nutrients.


A section of a garden with a variety of vegetables at Mercy Munene’s home April 04, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG 

"I started by delivering fruits and vegetables to my colleagues in the office. When Covid-19 hit, people were concerned about everything to do with their health, such as how many hands had touched the food. Then the question of where I was getting my food came up".

"Someone asked me about growing my vegetables. At first, it sounded strange - when you live in a flat, you wonder where you are going to get the space, and how you are going to do it. But then I saw that people were doing it. I started growing in containers and people loved it," says Ms Munene.

The Sh100,000 venture is the culmination of a personal experience, but she has not named it after herself. It's called Shamba Connect, an urban farming venture based in the fast-developing suburb of Utawala.

"I believed my business would grow beyond my name. Today it might be Mercy, tomorrow someone else will take over. Connect is about connecting people to the things we don't have every day," says the mother of three.


Now 10 years old, Shamba Connect is a provider of solutions for small-scale farmers in the many small space holders in urban settlements.

She grows a variety of vegetables including collard greens, lettuce, black nightshade, commonly known as managu and amaranths also known as terere. She also grows tomatoes, spring onions and chili pepper, rosemary, and lemongrass. She buys her seedlings from local suppliers.

Since synthetic fertilisers are not used, building and maintaining a rich, living soil through the addition of organic matter is a priority for organic farmers. Organic matter can be applied through the application of manure, compost, and animal by-products.


A section of a garden at Mercy Munene’s home April 04, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG 

"I use coco peat-based compost for propagation and red soil for the vegetables. I water up to twice a day, depending on the weather. Rabbit urine comes in handy for pest mitigation.

The price of organic food is generally higher than that of conventionally grown food. Depending on the product, the season, and the vagaries of supply and demand, the price can be anywhere from less than 10 percent below to more than 100 percent above that of conventionally grown produce.


The firm designs and installs gardens in homes and institutions, giving families access to organic, home-grown vegetables. They use recycled plastic to create vertical, hydroponic and custom gardens. So far, Mercy says they have done over 500 installations in urban settlements.

"We have vertical gardens, wall gardens and round gardens, and each one is customised to the size of the space, style, preferences and budget of the client," she says.


A section of a garden with a variety of vegetables at Mercy Munene’s home April 04, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG 

At Shamba Connect, she says, they also train and equip youth and vulnerable women in urban agriculture to build sustainable livelihoods using climate-smart farming techniques such as seedling propagation.

With a staff of five, they have trained over 1,500 slum women on organic urban farming.

"We do training and extension. We work with different NGOs, we have people who come to the farm to be trained on urban farming, rabbit farming and even site visits. We have an end-to-end solution where we give you the soil, the manure, and the seedlings. You only pay for the labour," she says.

To ensure the sustainability of organic vegetable production, Mercy has incorporated rabbit farming, which she says has a lot of benefits.

Rabbit manure has the highest nitrogen and phosphorus content, making it ideal for fruit trees and vegetables. The urine is for pest control, which replaces chemical pesticides.

The rabbit breeds include Flemish Giant, Chinchilla, New Zealand, California White, Havana and Dutch, which she uses for both commercial and household consumption.


She sells to individuals, restaurants and supermarkets, and plans to expand her customer base to include hospitals.

"We sell rabbits and rabbit products, which include meat, breeders and by-products such as manure and urine, which have a high value to people who do organic farming," she says.


Rabbit manure at Mercy Munene's home on April 4, 2024. PHOTO | BILLY OGADA | NMG

"Rabbit meat, which is classified as white meat, costs Sh800 per kilogramme, rabbit urine goes for Sh100 per litre and can be used as an organic pesticide, and rabbit manure for Sh600 per 50-kilogramme bag," says Ms Munene.

Like running any other business, she has her share of challenges. Her main problem is the financial aspect.

"I would like to expand the business and have many locations. But with the current economy and also the competition in the market, it is quite a task".

What keeps her going is seeing people gardening from the ground up and how it changes their lives for the better.

"The most important thing is that they are living healthy lives, consuming healthy food and at the same time making a living from organic farming, which makes me so happy," says Mercy, who now boasts of having donated blood twice.

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