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Why Gatundu tea farmers are shifting to horticulture

Vincent Kabuti
Vincent Kabuti of National Irrigation Authority (NIA) taking Water PS Joseph Irungu (left), the agency’s CEO, Mugambi Gitonga (2nd left), and other officials through the layout of the Sh750 million Rwabura Irrigation Scheme in Gatundu South Constituency. PHOTO | COURSTESY 

As pressure on land increases due to a rapidly growing population, returns from cash crop farming are dwindling. Sub-division has let to farm sizes getting smaller, leading to depressed production.

It is because of this that farmers in Gatundu South are now shifting from the major cash crops to high value crops in order to increase their income in the wake of falling returns from tea and coffee.

This means some of the growers may need to uproot crops such as tea in order to accommodate horticulture crops that bring good returns.

“It is no longer business as usual and farmers are now alive to the fact that they need to shift from the usual cash crops to horticulture in order to make a meaningful business in their small farms,” said Mr Peter Mwaura, a farmer in Gatundu.

For instance, a farmer needs at least three acres of land in order to make good returns from tea plantation. In an acre of land, a tea farmer would earn Sh200,000 on average after waiting for a whole year. On the other hand, a farmer growing an acre of cabbages will earn about Sh280,000 in five months or Sh700,000 from a quarter acre of passion fruit.

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“If I plant cabbage in half an acre I will get about 7,000 pieces and selling the same at Sh20 on average, I will make Sh140,000 within five months. How long would it take a farmer growing tea to realise such returns?” posed Mathew Kamau, a farmer in the region.

A tea farmer gets an average of two kilos from a single bush, with an acre having close to 3,000 bushes. At the current price of tea in the market, a grower will earn Sh200,000 on average in a year.

Mr Kamau, who has also been planting passion fruit for export market, has been earning Sh700,000 from a quarter acre. However, he gave up on the crop due to water challenges in the area as reliance on rain-fed agriculture was untenable, given the erratic patterns of weather.

However, he is planning to go back to passion farming once his irrigation infrastructure becomes operational in the near future.

“I have installed my power house and put in place necessary piping and will be going back to horticulture soon,” said the farmer who grew passion for export market.

Mr Kamau was also using diesel to power his farming activities and the cost was prohibitive, making him to stop the project.

Mr Waweru has been growing tea on his two=acre farm, but the returns have not been good, as the income is largely dependent on the economies of scale.

Whereas Mr Waweru is alive to this fact, unlike other farmers who have been uprooting the crop from their farms and venturing into full time high value agricultural crops, for him he wants to diversify to horticulture while maintaining some of his tea bushes.

“I have been a farmer for over a decade and I can tell you that you cannot make good returns from just tea alone. That is why there is need to diversify to other crops to supplement the returns coming in from the beverage,” he said.

However, for many years, farmers’ ability in the region to diversify has been hampered by the lack of irrigation in the region, forcing them to rely on rain-fed agriculture.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel as National Irrigation Authority (NIA) is in agreement with a Spanish contractor who will be constructing a dam at Rwabura Irrigation Development Project to cover 11,275 acres and benefit 20,000 farmers.

Vincent Kabuti, deputy general manager at NIA, said the project is targeting high value crops with farmers expected to grow cabbage, French beans, pineapples, tomatoes, lettuce and courgettes among other crops.

Mr Kabuti said the expected returns from the project would be Sh390 million annually and it will also create employment to 7,500 locals.

“We have signed Sh750 million loan agreement with the government of Spain and the project is expected to commence as soon as the Covid-19 restrictions come to an end,” said Mr Kabuti.

The project, said Mr Kabuti, is expected to be completed by August next year with farmers set to benefit from water immediately.

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