Jacob Kibet Cheres dropped his ambition of pursuing engineering course after completing his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 1995 and embarked on a journey of self-employment. Years later, he has no regrets for making the decision.
“I had enrolled for agricultural engineering courses at a local polytechnic with the intension of pursuing further studies but I changed my mind when I went to University of Eastern Africa, Baraton for practical (farming) sessions. It is then I realised that I could utilise the acquired skills to start my own agricultural business,” says Mr Kibet, 36 from Mosoriot, Nandi County.
He is among youthful farmers in the North Rift who are minting cash from horticulture targeting local and export market after shifting from the traditional grain and dairy farming.
“It was the desire of my parents that I pursue agricultural engineering to the university level but my ambition was to acquire necessary skills to enable me invest in the sub-sector and become self-employed,” explains Mr Kibet.
He has since enrolled in courses in horticultural production and entered partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture to ensure that he gains necessary skills to earn more profit from the investment.
“I learnt that there was low investment in vegetable and fruit cultivation in the region since most people viewed maize and dairy farming as their main source of income. Those who tried their luck in the sub-sector lacked modern production techniques. That is when I decided to go into horticulture business,” notes Mr Kibet at his farm.
He first began by researching on the type of horticultural crops that can be grown in the area.
Mr Kibet then started by planting cabbages and kales (sukuma wiki) in one-acre piece of land which enabled him to generate capital to invest in other varieties of horticultural crops.
“I earned an average of Sh300,000 in four months from the vegetables. This enabled me to invest in other income generating crops,” says the farmer.
Starting with two employees, Mr Kibet now has a workforce of five permanent employees and more than 20 casuals.
Among the crops he plants are baby corns, avocados, chewing cane, bananas, French beans, snow peas, sugar snaps and fruits such as pineapples, passion and tree tomatoes.
The drive to self-employment is now paying off immensely for the farmer as he can penetrate the export market, thanks to a contract he has entered with the CanKen International that operates at the Eldoret International Airport.
The farmer earned Sh200,000 from 100 grafted avocado plants in an acre piece of land last season after investing Sh6,000 in the crop he planted three years ago.
“The income from the crop is expected to increase now that it has attained its maturity and will be harvested twice a year,” says Mr Kibet, adding that he generated an additional Sh150,000 from sukuma wiki (kales) and beans he inter-planted with the avocados.
The youthful farmer earned a further Sh484,000 from cane after injecting 60,000 for two and half years .
“Horticulture is proving to be a lucrative venture compared to maize due to ready market and attractive rates,” says Mr Kibet who encourages the youth to invest in agribusiness.
The farmer says he earned over Sh600,000 last season from four-acre piece of pineapples and a further Sh150,000 from passion fruit.
Mr Kibet attributes his success to application of appropriate production techniques and availability of ready market for the produce.
His investment in bananas has received a boost recently when Ministry of Agriculture introduced new variety of high yielding crop in the region.
He expects to earn between Sh600 and Sh800 from each bunch of bananas compared to less than Sh300 from the convectional ones.
“Tissue culture bananas are disease- and pest-free. They grow uniformly and matures within eight months thus facilitating easy harvesting and marketing, earning farmers a lot of income,” says Michael Etiang’a, horticultural crops officer, Kosirai division.
He adds that new banana orchards can last for five to seven years and the yield can be 32 tonnes per hectare, compared to convection bananas which produces 14 tonnes in the same piece of land.
The drive by Mr Kibet to tap opportunities in the export market has been boosted by the move by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to refurbish airstrips in Western Kenya region to handle more flights and increase volume of horticultural commodities to meet demand in foreign markets.
KAA has also expanded its cold room storage facility at the Eldoret International airport from 150 tonnes to 300 tonnes.
Horticultural production in the region is, however, still low to fill up a cargo plane at one go.
Mr Kibet says another challenge is the lack of cold room storage facilities at the farm level. He, however, says farmers can use improvised charcoal cooler system that goes for Sh70,000.
“Horticulture farmers should not be discouraged by such challenges including stringent conditions from penetrating European market,” Mr Kibet counsels, adding that growers should always strive to improve quality of their produce.
He appeals to farmers to form societies to make it possible for them to access credit facilities from micro-finance institutions and a wide market range for their produce.