A decision by a group of youthful farmers in the North Rift to venture into horticulture targeting local and export markets has begun to bear fruit.
The drive to tap into opportunities in the export market has been boosted by a move by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to refurbish its airstrips in western Kenya to handle more flights and increase volume of horticultural commodities to meet demand in foreign markets.
The KAA has also expanded its cold room storage facility at the Eldoret International airport from 150 metric tonnes to 300 metric tonnes to enable horticultural traders from Western region to access European markets. This is good news for farmers who have ventured into horticulture.
One of the successful farmers in the region is Jacob Kibet Cheres who dropped his ambition for engineering after his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam in 1995 and embarked on his farming journey.
“I had enrolled for an agricultural engineering course 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 agriculture sessions. I realised that I could utilise the acquired skills to start my own agribusiness,” said Mr Kibet, 36 from Mosoriot, Nandi County.
“It was the desire of my parents that I pursue agricultural engineering at the university but my ambition was to acquire necessary skills to enable me invest in horticulture and become self-employed,” said Mr Kibet.
He has since enrolled in courses in horticultural production and developed 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 and those who tried their luck in the sub-sector lacked modern production techniques,” said Kibet at his Cheres farm.
He first began by researching on the types of horticultural crops that can be grown in the area and the market for the produce.
Mr Kibet set off 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 crops,” he said.
Mr Kibet started with two employees, but this has risen to more than 25 employees — five on permanent terms and the rest on temporary basis.
Among the crops he plants include baby corns, avocado, chewing cane, bananas, French beans, snow peas, sugar snaps and fruits such as pineapples, passion and tree tomatoes.
Mr Kibet has penetrated the export market thanks to a contract he has entered with CanKen International that operates at the Eldoret International Airport.
The farmer earned Sh200,000 from 100 grafted avocado plants on an acre 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,” disclosed Mr Kibet noting that he generated additional Sh150,000 from Sukuma wiki (Kales) and beans he inter-planted with the avocado.
The youthful farmer earned a further Sh484,000 from chewing cane after injecting Sh60,000 for two and half years and Sh45,000 from 500 kilos of sugar snaps after investing Sh7,000 over the same period.
“Horticulture is proving to be a lucrative venture compared to maize cultivation due to ready market of the produce at attractive rates,” said Mr Kibet while encouraging the youth to invest in agribusiness.
He earned over Sh600,000 last season from four-acre piece of pineapples and a further Sh150,000 from passion fruit. The farmer attributes his success to application of modern production techniques and availability of ready market.
A high yielding tissue culture banana has also been introduced in the region by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mr Kibet expects to earn between Sh600 and Sh800 from a bunch of the new banana compared to less than Sh300 from the convectional one.
“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,” said Michael Etiang’a, horticultural crops officer for Kosirai division.
He said the new banana orchards can remain in place for five to seven years and the yield can be 32 tonnes per hectare, compared to convection bananas which produce 14 tonnes per hectare. But lack of cold room storage facilities at the farm level is a major challenge to most farmers targeting the export market.